Author's Note: You already know of the tale of Areva, Keiichi, Fredrick, and Sheol...but what things happened differently? What if, instead of Areva reconciling with Keiichi, Keiichi instead fulfilled his previous destiny of taking over Sheol? What if Fredrick conducted his investigation alone and faced Lance by himself? What if neither Areva, Keiichi, or Fredrick were involved in Sheol's destruction and someone else toppled Lance? This collection of oneshots seeks to answer just that: What if things happened differently, and someone else took center stage in the drama known as Sheol?
"The killing blow" is something that every fighter strives to innovate. A technique so efficient and powerful that it can completely change the course of a fight, and the fighter that was once on the brink of defeat can achieve total victory. However, what if the attaining of the killing blow came at the cost of one's sanity, or even his very soul? Would that be considered true victory?
As Abraham looked down at the fallen Lance Levesque, who was so proud of his strength that he called himself the Fist God of the North, sanity finally started creeping back into his mind. Whatever those tablets did to him, they had given him the power to topple someone who was once considered a warrior without equal: quite impressive for someone who had chosen to lessen his once-zealotous Jeet Kune Do training in favor of studying to become a priest.
"I smell like…blood," he managed to say as he looked down at his body soaked in crimson. In the grips of his murderous rage, Abraham must have struck down hundreds of people at random, seeking that one warrior powerful enough to end his madness. Now that he had defeated Levesque, however, it would seem that was now a dream that would never come true. Lifting his blood-stained hand, Abraham growled in frustration as he realized the innumerous atrocities he had committed in his zombie-like lust for battle: this was not what martial arts was about.
"I need…a phone."
Feeling the violent impulse taking hold again, Abraham looked around the office that he had stormed so brazenly in his rage. He still had some minor recollection of the implication of that action: he had destroyed Sheol and done the world a great service. There had to have been a phone in this office where he could call the authorities, and tell them the truth. That Toronto's respected business leader was in reality the leader of the largest crime syndicate the world had ever seen.
Hearing a groan, Abraham darted around with his eyes shining with violet light as he watched Lance twitch. Feeling his violent intent boil in his blood yet again, Abraham clutched his head and used what little sanity he had to hold back the beast within that had murdered so many people and was now hoping to murder again. An inhuman howl escaped his lips as the overwhelming power coursing through his veins threatened to burst out of him and tear apart its prey, even if it had to escape its host to do it.
Looking up to the elevator, Abraham's sanity crept back in again as he saw someone very familiar to him: a youth with long brown hair and a black leather jacket, zipped open to reveal an elaborate tattoo not too different from Abraham's own body artwork. "Uncle," the youth called out to Abraham again as the violent intent in his eyes wavered, "…do you recognize me?"
"…Jacob," Abraham said once as he looked at the teenaged young man, realizing how long it had been since he had seen him. When Jacob was small, Abraham had taught his nephew the art of ki control as well as the philosophies of martial arts, while Abraham's sister taught her son the physical aspects of martial arts. What did Katie think of her son now, having such gaudy tattoos on his body? She almost had a conniption when her little brother got them: what did she think of her son getting them?
"Uncle," Jacob said as he cautiously approached the man that had once been his uncle. "Do you remember what you taught me about ki? How it can either attack, defend, or restore?"
"…of course," Abraham growled as his violent impulse turned its attention to the youth.
"Good…then that means I don't have to kill you just yet," Jacob said as he pulled his jacket off of him to reveal a lean, toned body that was made possible through hard training. Jacob had grown into such an impressive young man: maybe that's how Katie could bear seeing her son put those tattoos on his body. "Uncle Abraham…I knew that this day one come, where I would face you in a fight, and see if I'm ready to go out on my own journey! I hearby swear to defeat you, so that I can rid you of this curse that's taken hold of you!"
"Bajiquan…just like Katie," Abraham said with a smile as he identified Jacob's fighting stance before the pain started shooting up through his body again, screaming at him to rip apart the handsome youth that had interrupted his kill. His the violent impulse was now telling him to kill his own nephew, who was so much like himself in his younger days, eyes wide with innocent curiosity of the world they lived in. That's why Abraham smiled: because he knew that even with this killing blow at his fingertips, it couldn't hope to defeat the pure heart of a young warrior, who would take that killing blow and refine it into an even better prize, the Fist that Achieves Victory.
All Abraham had to do was make sure that he could hold that violent impulse in check long enough for Jacob to surpass him.
"Jacob…don't hold back…EVEN FOR A SECOND!"
If there was one export that Thailand had been consistently known for, even before it became one of the main drug trafficking centers of the world, it was warriors. Fighting had been a part of Thai tradition even dating back to when the land was covered in warring tribes as savage as the tigers they shared the land with. There had been legendary martial artists over the centuries that hailed from Thailand, their stories and exploits whispered in stories that would be told to children.
As Areva prayed to one of the many giant idols from the old ruins which gave proof that the tiny Ayutthaya was once a haven of kings, she asked herself if she too had inadvertently become one of those legends. When she left what remained of her village, there was vengeance and betrayal on her mind. Now that she had returned, she had become a strikingly different woman from the nervous wreck that had kept her from reaching Muay Thai immortality.
She pondered her father's last words to her once again, only now realizing what they meant. Keiichi Kobashi was like her, a lost soul struggling to find his place in the world now that unfamiliar emotions and passions had entered his heart. Areva originally sought him out for revenge for breaking her heart, but her journey had made her realize that was not the true reason she needed Keiichi. Through numerous battles with mighty warriors that she would have never met outside of Thailand, she had not only reforged the love she shared with Keiichi, but tasted Nirvana by completing her training as a warrior.
Now that she has tasted the outside world, there was no way she could ever return fully to her homeland. This would be the last time she would pray to the idols of her homeland, just like the legendary warriors before her would before embarking on their own quest for enlightenment.
In the past, Keiichi would say that name with hesitance, for he had a deep-seated fear of the emotions that came from that name. But Areva had changed him: he now said that name with the same reverence a priest would say the name of his god. Areva smiled as she turned her head from her prayer and saw Keiichi standing behind her. "I'm just asking him some questions, Keiichi," Areva said quietly. "You coming into my life, the death of my father, my hypersexuality…I was asking him if all of that was just a trial to the path of enlightenment."
"And what is he telling you, Areva?" Keiichi asked as he folded his arms.
Areva turned back to the stone idol, standing for centuries with the battle scars of time itself etched into its face, and closed her eyes again. "I was given a lustful body to match my lustful thoughts: there was a time I thought the world itself was playing a cruel trick on me by giving me such urges. Even worse is that those lustful thoughts would be at their worst in the heat of battle: so many times I felt a sadistic glee in combat…but…"
The young woman smiled again as she stood up and turned to Keiichi. "I believe that, and you, are all just mountains that I needed to climb to become a true warrior. If I had never left Thailand like I did, I would have never met those mighty warriors that showed that I wasn't as strong as I thought I was. They tempered my mind and body with every fight they gave me…and because of them, I was able to defeat Lance Levesque and sever the tie that bound you to the forces of evil."
"…and for that I am grateful, Areva," Keiichi answered with a smile of his own. It was always so rare that Keiichi smiled, and it made Areva's heart soar whenever that rare occasion occurred. "For 15 years, I was consumed with evil: my only goal was to take the reins of Sheol and sit on my throne of blood. But now…"
Keiichi's words drifted off as he tried to find the right thing to say, but Areva didn't need to hear his words. The power of love was something that transcended that, and could be felt through the winds that blew past Keiichi and to her. Turning back around with a warm smile, Areva knelt down onto one knee and clasped her hands together to continue her prayer. As she did so, however, she felt Keiichi strong arms gently wrap around her from behind. "…can I ask him some questions, too, Areva?"
"…of course, Keiichi," Areva said warmly as she continued praying while Keiichi channeled her prayers in his embrace. The world was calling out for them now: even if her prayers couldn't answer the questions they still had, there was no doubt that the wide world could do the same.
Patience had never been one of Biata's strong suits. When she first heard that her live-in boyfriend Fredrick had left to go on a global manhunt for the leader of Sheol, Biata thought nothing of how that was part of Fredrick's job as an Interpol detective, or how traveling the world was an expensive endeavor that Fredrick was able to accomplish from Interpol funding. Instead, she plunged head-first into action, using what little MMA prize money she had accumulated in her young career to propel her search for her Fredrick, while at the same time gathering what info she could on the organization known as Sheol.
Two months after hastily getting her passport ready, Biata had not only found Fredrick, but done the hard work for him by defeated Sheol's leader, the famed Fist God of the North Lance Levesque. Like a tornado of violence and destruction, Biata tore down anyone and everyone that stood in her way, inadvertently improving her resume as a warrior without equal by defeating some of the most renowned martial artists in the world. Some of them were directly involved with Sheol, some were just unfortunate enough to earn Biata's ire, but it mattered little to the Polish mixed martial artist. As long as she got results, they were just collateral damage.
Playing a video game on her handheld device like it were any other day, Biata turned from her seat at the airport and looked at Fredrick sitting next to her, still sporting the black eye she gave him when he told her to go home without him. Even after discovering the identity of Sheol's leader, Fredrick was thumbing through files as if the case was still ongoing. "Will you put those damn things away, Fredrick?" Biata grumbled as she slapped Fredrick's hand down before going back to her game. "We found the guy, and we kicked his ass. There's no need to keep digging through that crap…"
"He has lieutenants that could take over Sheol now that he's been defeated. Until Lance points all of the fingers needed for the empire to collapse, the threat of his syndicate is still alive," Fredrick answered as he put the files in his lap. Suddenly wrapping his arms around Biata, Fredrick rested his head against hers even as her face turned beet red. "But I couldn't have gotten this far without you, Biata. As always, you're the rocket fuel to my spaceship…"
"Y…you didn't sound so sweet when you kept telling me to go home and I kicked your lights out," Biata replied with embarrassment as she lightly pushed Fredrick off of her and focused on her game. "I just did what I would do in any fight: charge in with reckless abandon and figure out what to do next from there." The young woman paused her game and looked up as she pondered the words she just said. "You know…maybe that's why I have so much trouble making friends."
Charging in wildly with no regard for self or adversary: Biata had a surprisingly high success rate following this code of battle either in the octagon or in the streets. Discipline was something that was highly regarded in the world of combat sports, but what did that say about the tiger, or the bear: two savage beasts that strike hard and strike fast? Even the most disciplined human warrior would have their hands full with a savage beast. By taking after the bear or tiger, Biata had torn the martial arts world wide open by defeating Lance Levesque as well as countless other fighters in her narrow-minded quest to find Fredrick.
"I'm a lot better looking than a bear, too…"
"You say something, Biata?"
"What? No! What, do you think I'm some crazy person who talks to herself?" Biata snapped as she put her game down and locked her boyfriend in a guillotine choke. "I'll show you just how crazy I am: it says right on the pants that I'm downright szalony!"
"Hey, isn't that Biata Putska?"
"The fighter who took down Lance? She's here! Where's my flip camera!"
The young woman's name suddenly started echoing around her, causing her to relinquish her hold that once applied, sent anyone trapped within into a forced slumber. The flashing of cameras began to fill the air as the people in the airport suddenly became aware of Biata's presence. And this awareness made the young woman smile. "That's right, everyone! Biata Putska the world-renowned Vale Tudo goddess is here enjoying your wonderful city with the most wonderful boyfriend God could give a lucky lady like me!"
Standing up on top of her seat and flexing her toned muscles, Biata looked down at the bewildered Fredrick and gave him a playful wink. The world of martial arts was a world of renown and immortality that anyone could etch their name into with the balls to grab the magic marker and write. Reservation could force someone to let the world pass them by, but Biata knew better. The world would only be favorable to you with courage, and by charging forward with only your heart as your guide, could someone make a name for themselves.
That, and a well-placed kick to the temples coupled with a strong submission hold!
The sport of hockey had a pedigree of nobility and respect that few sports could match. Though the ice rink was where the matches usually took place, there were several off-shoots of hockey that could happen in any locale, proving that the sport transcended the confines of the arena and could be played in any condition. When Bradley first gained interest in it, he immediately knew what he wanted to do with his life, even as his countrymen laughed at him.
Now, a new sport had caught his fancy: the barbaric contest of street fighting. While hockey had respectable backgrounds even among the very physical aspect of the game, street fighting was rooted in treachery and dishonor. With no rules or limitations to prevent warriors from ripping each other to pieces, honesty and rules of engagement had no place in this world. It was the exact kind of sport that Bradley's wife Lauren would find disturbing and repulsive. So why was it that this loyal husband and athlete become so attached to it?
"Come on, mate! Give me another one, but make it faster! MUCH faster," the big man bellowed as he stood patiently in front of his net, waiting for the next puck to come speeding towards him like a bullet.
"Bradley, you've been catching punks coming at you at over 100 mph. This is starting to become dangerous."
"100 mph is nothing compared to what some of these guys can do! I have to be prepared!"
Though Bradley was big and strong, he was also extremely inexperienced in the ways of fighting, being a goalie by trade. His bodybuilder physique already made it difficult for him to move as quickly as his opponents in the rink: keeping up with smaller foes in the streets was an even more dire situation, as his bruises and wounds from his fights would attest to. Somehow, by force of will and determination, Bradley was able to overcome his speed disadvantage and free himself from the bonds of his tyrannical employer Lance Levesque...though Bradley couldn't help shake the feeling that Lance was going easy on him.
Quickly ducking his head, Bradley just barely evaded the next puck, which had gone so fast that it tore past the net behind him easily and ricocheted off of the side of the rink like a bullet. "That was way too close, Bradley," the trainer said as he turned off the shooter and started skating towards the big man. "I think we should call it a day: you've got to be getting tired by now and one miscue could give you a nasty-"
"We're not done yet," Bradley shouted back before tossing his goalie mits aside. "The training is only just starting! Now that I can move fast enough to dodge, it's time to see if I can move fast enough to catch! Get your bum back over there and start slinging those pucks at me!"
"Without your mits, are you nuts?"
Throughout his life, Bradley had been considered somewhat of an oaf: though he was well-meaning, he often did not come across as the smartest of individuals. When his former employer Lance forced him to join Sheol as one of the lowest members on the totem pole, he simply went along with it hoping for the best rather than taking a more preferable and obvious route like contacting the police. If not for a chance meeting with that female kickboxer in Thailand, Bradley might still have been Lance's underling without so much as raising a peep.
But that chance meeting changed him in many ways. Getting thrashed by that fighting goddess had inspired him in the same way that the American Revolution inspired similar revolts across the globe that changed the landscape of the political world. She showed him that there was a world of heroes and villains that only the strong could live in, where skill and prowess could overcome even the most daunting of physical odds. Bradley's size and endurance had made him a top prospect in the hockey world in his younger days, but in the world of fighting, it mattered very little compared to the power of the human spirit.
If Bradley couldn't even catch a speeding puck, something that he was trained to do in the first place, how could he hope to parry a speeding kick, or a speeding punch, headbutt, elbow, knee, or whatever other flashy technique she could do?
Watching his trainer skate back to the puck shooter, Bradley grinned from ear to ear as he lifted his hands. "OK, mate….let me have it!"
It all happened in a quick instant, the moment between the punk launching from the shooter and the moment where it connected with Bradley's hand. The pain he felt was excruciating, and he was wondering if he might have broken something in his palm...but throughout all of that pain, Bradley still grinned. Even as tears welled up in his eyes, Bradley grinned as he looked at the puck that was now caught in his throbbing right hand. He had completed his reflex training, and now he was ready to begin his career as a street fighter.
Well…it would start as soon as he got an x-ray on his hand. The pain was getting worse and worse with each passing second, and Bradley let loose a loud roar of pain and triumph, laughing heartily even between his screaming of agony.
For almost all of his life, he was told that he couldn't do it. It mattered little what "it" happened to be, whether it be staying clean when surrounded with corruption, being able to become a respected musician despite no one else in his family taking interest in music, escaping the thrill of the pit fights when so many others like him could not, or whatever other goal he had in mind. The fact that he came from a broken household with almost nonexistent parenting, leaving him the sole caretaker of his many brothers and sisters, led everyone around him to doubt his ability.
Even when he had his voice taken from him by Sheol, the gang that tried to claim Manhattan as their own and in the process further corrupt his neighborhood, Byron did not listen to what his so-called friends told him. That his quest for revenge was suicidal and he would not live to see it through to the end. That Sheol was so vast that Byron couldn't hope to discover the identity of its leader. That even if he did find its leader, it would not soothe the rage in his heart.
But Byron did not listen to any of that.
Byron steered clear of the drugs and crime that so many of his friends growing up could not escape from. Byron had reservations to five different concert halls in Manhattan before his vocal chords were damaged by Sheol. Byron recognized that the underground pit fights had outlived their usefulness and was able to ignore the call of the ring to focus on his music career. And when push came to shove, Byron decimated everyone that stood in his way of finding Sheol's leader, and then decimated the man himself even thought he was known as "the Fist God of the North."
As Byron lifted Sheol's leader up into the air by his throat, not even realizing he was the Relieve Corporation president Lance Levesque until he stormed his office and saw the name on his desk, he stared into the old man's eyes, scanning for the fear that he instilled in so many fighters before him. The men and women Byron crossed fists with on his way here were on an entirely different level than the thugs and deviants that he faced in the fighting pits, but he struck them all down just as he would strike down those very same thugs and deviants. Lance was no different, and if he were like the other martial artists, he would stare at him with fear.
There was no fear in Lance's eyes. In fact, the sparkle in his eyes made it seem like he actually hoped Byron would strike him down. "What're you waiting for, big man?" Lance said through a pained whisper as he grinned through blood-stained teeth. "You mowed down so many people to get to me, didn't you? Didn't you come here to kill me?"
Byron fantasized about this moment for weeks, where Lance's throat would be held tightly in Byron's giant hand. He imagined Sheol's leader, whoever he was, to be a coward that hid behind his minions and anonymity. When that leader realized that all of his minions and all of his secrecy would not save him from Byron's vengeance, Byron imagined him to be whimpering in fear as Byron pummeled him into oblivion.
But in reality, Sheol's leader was fearless, maintaining his veil of secrecy only out of necessity. Part of that might have had to do with his enormous ego, but it was clear that Lance Levesque was anything but a sniveling coward. His bravery was at a point where it was unhealthy, actually hoping someone would take him down. "Come on, you chicken! You came all this way to pummel me senseless, and now you can't deliver the coup de grace? Hurry up and finish me off!"
Narrowing his eyes, Byron reared back his free hand and charged his ki in preparation for a killing blow. There would be no clean kill: given that he received no formal training, Byron's goal in fighting was to destroy anything in his path with raw power and no finesse. When this killing blow connected, it would be extremely messy. Lance would be dead in the ugliest of ways…and Byron would be the one who murdered him.
This was something Byron could not allow.
"W…where are you going, big man?" Lance demanded as Byron dropped him to the floor and started to walk away. "We're not finished yet! I know who you are now, do you think I'll just let you walk off? If you want this to end, you'll have to kill me! KILL ME, YOU SON OF A-"
Byron had already shut out Lance's ramblings as the elevator door closed and he returned to ground level. Byron was many things, and though he had forsaken his humanity to become a monstrous giant in his path to destroy Sheol, now that he had accomplished that goal there was no need to continue being the monster. Just like always, there had been those who doubted that Byron would be able to return to being a human after his quest to destroy Sheol ended, and just like always, Byron proved them wrong.
A gentle snow fell on Byron as he stepped out of the towering building and put his hands in his jacket pockets for warmth. A fitting way to cool down the rage in his heart, he thinks to himself…
Though the veneer of civilization has denounced the evils of killing, it is something as natural to human beings as breathing. The ascension to the top of the food chain did not come from diplomacy, but through deadly ingenuity and slaying of rival animals that tried to claim the planet as their own. Killing other animals is an undeniable law of nature, but what sets humans apart from other animals is the frequency of killing their own kind. Humans are unique in the world in that they kill other humans for reasons outside of survival.
Claude Badeau, an assassin by trade, told himself this over and over again as he stained himself with the blood of his fellow man under the orders of Sheol. Some of the most pivotal moments in history were triggered by murder, and Sheol intended to make its own mark on the world with the lofty ambition to become the sole ruler of all organized crime. An ambition like that would require blood to be spilled in quantities comparable to a small war, and it would be Claude who would shed most of this blood so that more innocent minds wouldn't have to.
But when it came time to turn his hand on his master, Lance Levesque, Claude found himself unable to deliver the killing blow. Lance had purposely manipulated him to believe that his friend Keiichi had sold him out to the authorities, only learning the truth after defeating Keiichi. When Keiichi told him that he was planning to abandon Sheol entirely for the sake of a woman, Claude willfully volunteered to defeat Lance in Keiichi's place while Keiichi rounded up the proper authorities. After all, Lance was indirectly responsible for Claude's parents' deaths, as well, as he was the one who set in motion the events that led Claude to kill them.
So why, after so many years of killing, could Claude not deliver the fatal strike to Lance as his former master fell to his knees breathing heavily? If Lance were to die by his hand, the entire empire of Sheol would collapse and the criminal underworld would be left in disarray. If he were ambitious enough, Claude could take Sheol for himself and take the seat of ultimate power that he had only tasted as the 4th Golem of Sheol. Yet there was Claude, the sweat beating from his brow as he found himself completely paralyzed when mustering up the willpower to end Lance's wretched life.
"You've done good work, Claude."
Hearing a familiar voice behind him, Claude lowered his fists and turned around to see Keiichi standing at the elevator door, with that police friend of his next to him. Fredrick Steinwald was his name: Claude had encountered him several times and was the reason he believed Lance's manipulative lie of Keiichi's betrayal to be true. The two young men walked towards Lance as Fredrick pulled out a pair of handcuffs. "I'll take it from here, Mr. Badeau," the policeman told Claude. "I've waited a long time for this moment: now Sheol will crumble and the world will become a better-HURK!"
It took only an instant for it to happen: that one moment to change the course of history. With his hand burning with poisonous violent fire, Claude plunged it into Fredrick's chest and latched onto his heart still beating within his body. There was nary a scream from the detective, too stunned to react as his heart of justice was ruptured and crushed like a fruit. He watched the life fade in Fredrick's eyes before pulling out his hand, watching Fredrick fall to the floor as the smell of blood filled the room.
"…what have you done, C-"
Keiichi's chest was considerably easier to breach, given that he wasn't wearing the Kevlar vest that Fredrick had. As his burning hand wrapped around Keiichi's heart that had recently been resurrected by the power of love, Claude looked into Keiichi's eyes expecting the same state of shock. To his surprise, all he found was a glare of disappointment, as if Keiichi expected this to happen but hoped that it wouldn't. Was Claude so predictable that one of his closest friends would expect his death to come at the Kenpo user's hands?
As Claude crushed Keiichi's heart of love and watched him fall, a terrible sensation of guilt filled his heart: the exact same guilt he felt every time he took a life. No matter how many times Claude changed history, the terrible sinking feeling he felt when he took a life was always present: in fact, this time it felt worse than ever before. Living in a civilized world would do that to a man, especially a man who considered himself a member of nobility.
"…you're a real piece of work, you know that?"
Lance's words had a hint of disdain as the crime lord stood back up and lurched over to the man that had beaten him within an inch of his life only minutes ago. "When I gave you the kill order on those two, even after you learned about how I set you against Keiichi, I expected you to turn on me. Any decent human being would have: the guy who writes your checks against the guy who was one of your only friends growing up in the organization, the answer should have been obvious."
"…a nobleman never turns his back on his master," Claude said as he fought back tears, "…even if his master is a fiend, and his target is his closest friend who has a woman expecting his safe return."
Lance walked in front of Claude and turned to face him, noticing how those tears of sorrow were beginning to turn into tears of hate. "I ordered you to murder your friend AND a police officer…does being a nobleman prevent you from doing what you know in your heart is right? I bet you want to rip my throat out and stomp on it, don't you!"
"…more than anything in the world, master," Claude hissed as his red eyes burned with hate. "…but until you release me from your service, I shall remain loyal to your beck and call."
Lance smiled deviously as he reached out and put his hand on Claude's shoulder. Lance knew better than anyone to horrible addiction of killing. How once you have your first kill, it is almost impossible to stop. The difference between he and Claude was that Lance embraced this addiction, while Claude thrashed about madly trying to break free but only making it worse. Lance fully expected Claude to satiate his addiction on him someday, but to that prospect he told Claude this.
"You'll get your chance soon enough."
Donal Mhic Cormac
Donal knew better than anyone just how powerful music could be. Music could completely alter the moods of several people at a time, from bringing a rowdy mob to quiet whisper from bringing even the mildest of crowds into a frenzy. The effects of music weren't even limited to just emotional stability: there was an entire field of medicine devoted to music. Music could heal wounds, both mental and physical, and give someone the power to overcome any obstacle.
Thanks to the rhythm that was ever-present in Donal's head, he was able to successfully topple whatever obstacle stood in his way in discovering the source of the gang warfare tearing his city of Belfast apart. The people he met on his journey were strong and skilled, some of them with several more experience in fighting than he had. Despite all of that, they didn't have the equilibrium that Donal possessed, his many years of DJ experience giving him the edge he needed to throw his opponents off-guard.
After a couple of weeks of searching and traveling, the Belfast DJ known as "DMC" found the man responsible for the gang problem: the leader of Sheol Lance Levesque. As powerful as those other fighters were, Lance Levesque was in a league all of his own. If Lance was around during the Troubles, he probably could have silenced the warring factions single-handedly. He was a peerless warrior with a mastery of ki control that made him seem more than human. But through sweat and hard work, Donal persevered and defeated Lance.
With that done, there was only one thing left to do.
Donal cracked his neck as Lance slowly pushed himself off the ground. Even though this was the first time they had met, Donal was actually quite familiar with the name Lance Levesque. In addition to being a powerful martial artist and the criminal mastermind behind Sheol, he was an extremely wealthy businessman with a good reputation to the public. If word got out that he was Sheol's leader, his empire in both the legal and illegal worlds would collapse. While that would normally mean good things for the world, Donal had a better idea.
"…if you haven't beaten me back down, it must mean you want something," Lance growled as he wiped the blood from his lip. "State your business, Irishman: I'm a busy man."
"Well," Donal began as he shuffled his feet a bit. Even defeated, Lance was an intimidating human being: the size of his arms almost rivaled Donal's head, even when wearing an undershirt over them "…your Sheol has been causing me a hell of a lot of trouble back home in Belfast. I was wondering if maybe you could back off a bit: we had enough trouble with gang fighting years ago with the Troubles, and it tends to be bad for my night club business if people are too afraid to go out into the streets at night."
"...PFT! Is that all!," Lance said incredulously. "Surely that can't be all you want! Come on, Irishman: you had to have had a better reason to come all this way than just tell me to back off from your hometown! Where's your big speech about how you came all the way from the other side of the Atlantic to stop my evil ways, thwart my terrible plans for this world, save the planet from the power of Sheol, and all of that bologna?"
"That was kind of it…but as long as I'm here!"
Destroying Sheol would indeed help the world, but Donal realized it would only be a temporary measure. He could do so much more good by using his music to reach out to the world and give them a reason to smile. So instead of wasting time with a rhetoric that would be better served with a policeman or one of the other fighters he met that seemed infinitely more heroic than him, Donal instead requested Lance's services. With Lance's funding and business acumen, Donal's music could go from being a local hit in the Irish Island to a worldwide sensation.
"So, in return for keeping my identity a secret, you want me to start up a record label with you as the marquee feature. On top of that, you want jet and limo service, your own recording studio in Belfast, an agent to hook you up with any guest singer you want at a given time, AND you want Sheol to pull out of both Northern Ireland AND regular Ireland," Lance summarized Donal's request as the Belfast DJ smiled from ear to ear. "…I'll give you all of that, if you give me a request."
"And what's that?"
"…I want a cameo in your debut music video," Lance said with a grin of his own. "Since you're a dance DJ, I'm sure you're going to have a lot of well-endowed women dancing and bouncing around while whatever guest singer you have dances and bounces along with them! I want to go out there in that video, with all of my best bling or whatever kids these days call it, and I'll show them my own awesome dance moves!"
The idea of Lance Levesque, a middle-aged man with an ego as big as the sun, bopping around with women considerably younger than him in a music video, could only elicit two words from the DJ who would soon become one of the biggest names in the music industry. A big name who would owe all of that fame to the very same man who would embarrass himself in front of millions of viewers and become a trending topic on news channels for years to come if his request was fulfilled.
Being a champion didn't come from being the strongest person in a fight. It didn't come from being the fastest, the most durable, the bravest, or even the smartest person in a fight. It came from the ability to synthesize every attribute into a cohesive weapon and use that harmony to overwhelm an opponent. Being a champion came from being able to overcome any obstacle and physical shortcoming to rise up over any opponent until there is only one person left standing.
Simply put, being champion came from being the best.
The title of "the best" was something that Felix hungered for ever since he first stepped foot into a boxing ring. That was the reason why he played along with Sheol's scheme for so long, because he recognized them as a necessary step to make the proper connections to prove himself as the best. The most he had going for him when Sheol first contacted him were his good lucks and his speed: if not for Sheol fixing his fights, he would have been overpowered to the point where he would never get back up the ranks. Thanks to them, he was able to get a proper foothold onto the world stage and gain access to the trainers that would help him build helpful muscle mass to improve his strength and endurance without losing his agility.
But just like there came a time when a child must remove his training wheels to ride a bike, Felix realized it was time to sever his ties with Sheol and branch out on his own merits. Gathering intel from the friends he had made as a Sheol operative and beating intel out of those who weren't as willing, the boxer discovered the identity of Sheol's leader and confronted him to request his immediate release from Sheol's employ. After a long battle, the hardest in Felix's career, he not only emerged a free man, but bearing the title as the greatest of all martial artists. By conquering Sheol's leader, the Fist God of the North Lance Levesque, Felix had proven himself ready to become champion.
Having faced Lance Levesque, long feared as the most powerful martial artist in the Northern Hemisphere, Felix's opponent for the cruiserweight boxing championship of the world was no challenge whatsoever. The celebration in his native Madrid was massive, and Felix returned home with the championship accolade that he pined for so long. The fame and fortune that he longed for was now at its peak, with all of the money and pleasurable company to go along with it.
The victory reception was enjoyable enough, Felix figured. His date that evening was a Japanese supermodel that didn't speak a lick of English or Spanish, but the language of human attraction bridged any verbal gap between the two. The champagne and money was a nice touch, but pleasurable company was what really made Felix happy to be as famous as he was. He'd always been a ladies' man, but being famous definitely helped improve his clientele.
But while talking with a politician that was likely trying to gain his favor for a campaign commercial, Felix spotted someone even more stunning than that Japanese supermodel: a gorgeous Thai goddess with long black hair and a body to die for. After making sure that his date was preoccupied with other matters, Felix turned on his Latino charm and made his way over the woman that had caught his fancy. "An angel has come down from heaven to celebrate my victory," Felix said with a charming smile as the woman turned to face him. "What might your name be, senorita?"
"Kobashi," the woman said with a nervous smile, "Areva Kobashi."
Like a bad omen, a familiar Japanese young man in glasses and longcoat walked up behind Areva and stared a hole into Felix's soul. Though he might have been a ladies' man, Felix made it a point never to encroach upon another man's woman. Not only had he broken that rule, but he did it with his oldest and possibly best friend from Sheol, Keiichi Kobashi. "Do you see anything you like, Felix?" Keiichi asked with the same kind of cold voice as a mortician.
"…just happy to see my little amigo Keiichi finally find himself a beautiful girl," Felix replied with a smile as he watched Areva walk off. "So, that's the Areva you kept telling me about: I can see how you fell in love with someone like that. But, when did the two of you get married? You know I've always wanted to be the best man at your w-"
"It hasn't been finalized yet," Keiichi interrupted: something he only did when he was about to talk about business. "Felix…I just want to let you know that I'm the leader of Sheol now. When you took out Lance, he went into hiding and left a power vacuum in the hierarchy…and as the leader of Sheol, I want you to come back into the fold and take my old spot as as Golem of Sheol."
Though Felix was proud to consider Keiichi his friend, and even saw him as more of a little brother, the words that came from Keiichi's mouth stung like angry bees. Felix had worked so hard to free himself from the grip of Sheol, and become a champion on his own merits. If Keiichi was here telling him that he was now the head of Sheol, there was a possibility that Felix's claim as champion was now in jeopardy. Keiichi wouldn't do something as underhanded as fix his championship fight that he knew Felix wanted so badly to be clean…would he?
"…I'm done with that part of my life, Keiichi," Felix said with his smile diminishing. "If you want me to come back, you're going to have to make me come back."
Keiichi's leg shot out like a piston, and if Felix wasn't Felix, he likely would have received a quick concussion. But Felix had trained hard for moments like these, where an opponent would face him that was every bit as skilled and blessed as he was. "A little exhibition for my guests tonight," Felix said as he put up his fists and smiled again, even as Keiichi glared coldly. "Sorry I'll have to do this in front of your girl, amigo…but maybe it's time I showed you just why I'm the champion!"
When Fredrick finally graduated from Interpol's police academy, he was told by his teacher that justice was blind. Even if Fredrick had accumulated all of the evidence in the world to properly arrest a suspect and keep him behind bars, there was always the chance that the courts would rule the suspect not guilty and set him free. These occurrences were the source of frustration for any police officer, as it looked bad on them that they apprehended an innocent man even when they knew deep in their gut that they were guilty. It was an inescapable reality that Fredrick was privy to and he still hadn't fully accepted it.
As he locked the handcuffs around Lance Levesque's wrists, the detective recalled how difficult it was to get to that point. Even though his father had worked on the Sheol assignment in the past, he refused to share any of the data he collected, even with his own son. That left Fredrick to Sheol's several hotspots around the globe connecting the dots to Sheol's leader. During his investigation, he met several men and women who were also seeking information on Sheol's leader, some of them friendly and others hostile. But even when Fredrick finally did accumulate enough information to issue a warrant for Lance's arrest, it couldn't possibly prepare him for the intense fight that the Canadian crime lord put up, befitting of his title "Fist God of the North."
But Fredrick pulled through, just like he always did during his cases, and was able to topple the mighty Levesque. "Before I read you your rights, I'd like to ask you a few questions," Fredrick said as he pulled Lance up to his feet, feeling uncomfortable with the sly grin on the fallen Sheol leader's face. "You don't have to answer them, of course, but it would be in your best interest to do so if you don't want me to mention about how you resisted arrest."
"Heh…I'll humor you, detective," Lance said with an arrogant smile. "Let's hear what you want to get off your chest."
"…believe it or not, sir, I actually respected you," Fredrick began. "Before all of this happened, you were the owner of my favorite hockey team, one of the most respected men in the medicine business, and a self-made billionaire. You could have retired in a few years and no one would have thought less of you: you so much power at your fingertips, both in the economic and fighting worlds…but on top of that, you had to be the leader of Sheol. What possessed you to take up that role?"
Lance's smile only widened, and it made Fredrick wonder if he was about to try and escape. It took everything Fredrick had just to put Lance down long enough to put cuffs on him: if Lance knew of a way to escape, the detective could do little to stop him. Turning his head with that Cheshire grin, Lance looked into Fredrick's eyes and spoke. "Why did you decide to go into law enforcement, detective? What is your ultimate goal in this career of yours?"
Fredrick looked down at Lance's cuffs to make sure that he wasn't trying to break free. Up until that point, Fredrick had taken such pride in his training as a Silent Scan ninja coupled with his keen intellect and deductive reasoning. But Lance's own fighting prowess had shaken his faith, and he started to wonder if he was ever going to see his family or his girlfriend again if Lance were to break free. The most he could do was play along until backup came. "My goal as a detective is to create a world without crime," Fredrick answered honestly.
"Well, whattya know! That's my ambition, too," Lance chimed in with enthusiasm. "I lost my wife and kid to local mob here in Toronto, and I tore apart those sons of bitches with my bare hands…but that wasn't enough! It wasn't nearly enough!" Lance's smile curled into a snarl as he continued. "I knew that if I really wanted to make an impact, I had to think bigger. To that end, I created Sheol and swallowed every mafia, yakuza, gang, and mob I could get my hands on. If not for you, I would have had all of organized crime under my thumb!"
"So in order to exterminate crime, you wanted to strengthen it?" Fredrick surmised, noticing that wild look in Lance's eyes. If he was going to strike, it was going to be soon. "Not a good plan for someone as smart as you."
"Once I had everyone working for me, I'd inject a lethal dose of poison into Sheol by giving all of the evidence and hard intel collected over the years to Interpol! And since Sheol would have controlled all of organized crime…all of organized crime would die along with it. It was a brilliant plan!" Lance's voice became raspy and angry, as if he was having a nervous breakdown. The chain on Lance's handcuffs became taught, and Fredrick pulled out one of his acupuncture needles in preparation to subdue Lance again…until suddenly the chain became loose again, and Lance's growl turned into a thin smile as his voice became a whisper. "It was so brilliant, that the last Interpol officer who figured it out decided to turn the other cheek and let the plan be seen through to the end."
Fredrick's eyes became wide with shock as he comprehended the full meaning of Lance's words. "You mean…my father knew about all of this?"
"Hiroshi Steinwald...you know, you don't look a thing like your father. Probably why I didn't recognize you," Lance grinned as he took note of Fredrick's expression. Even though he and his father didn't get along nowadays, Hiroshi was the reason Fredrick decided to become a police officer. He'd been through enough interrogations to know when someone was lying, though: Lance was telling the truth about his father. The reason Hiroshi isolated his son during his investigation was because he was in on the whole thing.
Mercifully, the elevator doors opened to reveal a dozen armed police officers walking into the room, with four of them taking Lance and escorting him away. "Justice is blind, Steinwald," Lance told Fredrick as the young German officer turned around to look out the window and to the city far below. "If you really want to do what's right, sometimes you have to take advantage of her handicap and do things behind her back! Do you think you have what it takes to separate doing what's legal and doing the right thing?"
For that, Fredrick had no answer as he watched the sun set on Toronto, and the Sheol case.
Not everyone was fit to be a leader. In Igor's eyes, there were two kinds of people in the world: those who could lead, and those who could follow. Without a shepherd to guide them, the followers would be lost to the winds of the world, and without followers, the shepherd's ability to lead would be rendered moot. There would always be a deviant who would claim that he was fit to lead despite being a follower, or a leader that was disgusted with the incompetence of his followers, but Igor realized that the harsh reality was that followers and leaders needed each other in a symbiotic relationship. After all, a leader with no power wasn't a real leader.
After disposing the deviants that threatened Sheol and quelling the attempted coup, Igor was summoned to his leader and adopted father Lance's office. "You've done a fine job, Igor, just like you always do," Lance said with a smile before assuming his fighting stance. "But are you really going to be satisfied with just this? As second-in-command, doesn't the prospect of defeating me to take leadership tempt you like the forbidden apple? Come at me with everything you have, Igor: let me see just how far your ambition can take you!"
At the end of an extremely difficult battle, it was Igor who stood victorious over his leader, who only smiled as he lay down on the ground bruised and battered. Lance offered the spot of leader to Igor, who had proven himself to be the strongest fighter in the organization, but Igor told Lance this. "In every bitva, there must be a general to lead his men into it. Father…though you are not fit to be my opponent, you are still fit to be my leader. I will follow to the depths of hell if you wish it!"
After a brief helicopter ride back to his apartment in New York, Igor took note of the smell of decadence and corruption in his neighborhood before opening the door and smelling something even more foul within his home. The mouse trap he set up seemed to have worked, as a few feet away from him was the decapitated corpse of the rodent that had been plaguing his home before he started his worldwide cleansing mission. "Disgusting vermin," Igor grumbled as he picked up the two separate pieces of the dead mouse and threw them outside.
Igor's entire body ached with the toll of constant battle: those vigilantes and do-gooders seeking to end Sheol were stronger than anyone else Igor had faced in his career as a criminal deviant. Now that the thrill of battle was gone, all that was left was the painful reminders of how close Igor came to losing. He prided himself of being physically stronger than others, and while that still held true, the gap between him and his enemies wasn't as wide as he would have liked. "I need to train harder," Igor muttered as he sat down on his couch and exhaled. Regardless of how close he came to losing before, the fact of the matter was that he still won, and he deserved a rest.
Placing his ebony rods that had won him so many fights on a table next to him, Igor reached down to his answering machine and pressed play before turning to his right to examine the handgun he took as a trophy from a recently defeated gang leader. The gun wasn't just a cheap peashooter that he'd see so often in the streets: this handgun was long and slender with a dark luster, truly making it a worthy trophy for a successful mission. He could see why the defeated leader treasured it so: if someone were to die by it, it would have been a fine death indeed.
"…Igor, it's Trish."
Igor stopped for just a moment as the familiar female voice chimed over the answering machine. There was a pause that seemed to go on forever, and Igor stopped examining the handgun as he waited patiently for the message to continue. "...it's been four weeks since I've last spoken to you or even seen you. I asked Mr. Levesque where you were, and he just told me you were on a business trip overseas and you'd be gone for a while. I was getting a little worried so I thought I'd leave you a message whenever you got back."
Nodding his head once, Igor resumed checking the handgun, opening the drawer it had been sitting on and pulling out a handful of bullet which he loaded into the chamber. "I remember you telling me that you liked industrial music, so I managed to get a pair of tickets to Heavy Foot Hammers concert playing in Toronto next month. I figure you'll be back from your business trip by then: you've put up with all of the date ideas I've come up with, so I think it's time that I do something for you."
Loading the bullets into the chamber, Igor continued listening to the phone message. Trish Layfield was the one cheena that never showed any kind of fear in his presence, despite how intimidating Igor could be. Whether or not that was attributed to bravery or ignorance he couldn't figure out, but he humored her as best he could. Being a ladies' man was more up Claude's alley, and he didn't have Keiichi's runway good looks: Igor only knew how to fight, so maintaining a relationship was troublesome. He was a bit surprised that Trish hadn't just given up on him by now.
"…Igor, the real reason I'm calling is because I just want to let you know that I'm worried about you. Msot of the time you come to our dates all bruised up and you insist it was just a minor scuffle. You seem to get into a lot of fights, and I'm worried that one evening, I'll see you in the obituaries. A lot of the co-workers tell me that you're bad news and I should stay away from you…but I don't want to stay away from you. Give me a call back as soon as you get-"
The sound of gunfire filled the room as Igor fired off a single round into the closet in front of him. Putting his gun aside and instead picking up his rods, Igor jumped off the couch and ran over to the closet, opening the door to reveal the very fresh corpse of a man clothed entirely in black with a ski mask over his face that was now dripping from the gunshot wound in his forehead. "…mafia scum," Igor grumbled before picking up the limp body and hoisting him over his shoulder. Someone would have heard the gunshot, and the police would be coming soon. Before that happened, Igor would deliver the body to the mafia scum that tried to kill him and give them one last warning.
But as long as he was up and about, Igor reached into his pocket for his cell phone and dialed Trish's number. The phone rang three times before a female voice answered the phone while Igor opened the door to his apartment with his victim in tow. "Hello, Trish...you wanted to talk?"
Keiichi was supposed to have it all figured out.
He had waited 15 long years for this moment to come. Where he would confront Lance Levesque and have him answer for all of the sins and atrocities he had committed as the leader of Sheol, chief among them the death of the Kobashi clan. Where he would strike down the once-indomitable Canadian crime lord and finally grow out of his adopted father's shadow. Where he would take his place as the leader of all organized crime just like he was supposed to become the king of the Japanese Yakuza before the wave of Sheol crashed down on him like a tsunami.
Keiichi executed his plan brilliantly: there were quite a few people in the Sheol hierarchy that were weary of Levesque's insatiable ego. Well over a dozen crime lords who were forced to literally kiss Levesque's rear end upon being initiated into Sheol had not forgotten that supreme humiliation and saw Keiichi as a more traditional leader with the youth and vigor of someone who had a clear vision of the future. As soon as word broke out that Keiichi had defeated Lance, there was an almost domino effect throughout the world of crime. Gone was the power-hungry and extremely arrogant Lance Levesque who had only casually run Sheol between splitting time with his Relieve Corporation and hockey team. Taking his place was the young Keiichi Kobashi, who had a respectable pedigree in organized crime as well as a deep respect for those who came before him.
But something within Keiichi had changed on the long road to domination. If the coup had taken place six months earlier, the young shooter would have relished his hard-won victory and made immediate steps to change the world of organized crime for the better. This was, after all, his birthright as a former Yakuza prince: why wouldn't he want to savor the spoils of conquest? Six months ago, Keiichi would have made the reign of Lance Levesque seem like a bad memory.
But two weeks had passed since Keiichi took the reigns of Sheol, and there had not been any word from him since the day of the coup. The world of organized crime had become extremely quiet, with the lesser crime lords going about their business as if Sheol didn't exist. Instead, all Keiichi did was sit in his office in Toronto: the one that he usurped from Lance which had a long history of bloodshed behind it. The only time he said anything was when he ordered one of his underlings to order groceries to bring to him. It was beginning to seem as if Keiichi had completely lost his nerve and any plans he had when he took leadership of Sheol had been rendered nonexistent.
Stepping out of the elevator, Felix Esquerra spotted his longtime friend still sitting in his chair, still holding that purple kimono in his arms. "…you look like hell, amigo," Felix said out loud as he walked towards the young man who refused to acknowledge his presence, as if he was in an entirely different world. "This Sheol uniform you've been making me wear is really itchy, but I put up with it because I thought following you would be better than following the old man. Instead, I see you moping around and turning your back on your dream? You're better than that, Keiichi…"
"…I was going to give this to her, you know."
Finally, after two long weeks, Keiichi spoke to the Spaniard that once told him that he saw him as a little brother, his voice solemn and hollow. It sounded so pathetic that even the bright-spirited Felix became serious as Keiichi stood up with the kimono still in his grasp. "When all of this was over, when I finally avenged my parents and ended Levesque's insanity…I was going to give this kimono to her and ask her to marry me. She was going to be my new reason for doing what I do…she was going to be the one who kept me from becoming as bad as Levesque."
Felix knew who Keiichi was talking about. During the weeks of finalization for the coup, Keiichi would often talk about a female kickboxer from Thailand that stole his heart, the Muay Thai Princess Areva Petchyindee. From what Felix gathered from the other operatives, Keiichi had wronged Areva in some way and Areva was seeking him out for retribution: a fact that made Keiichi's stomach churn as he obviously still held feelings for him. Felix had also heard that she and Keiichi did have a confrontation a couple of days before the big fight with Lance: why would Keiichi be talking about her like this, unless…
"Keiichi…amigo," Felix said with rare seriousness as he noticed a tear form in Keiichi's left eye, "…what happened?"
"…we had a big fight. She wanted me to abandon my coup so that I could go back to Thailand with her, and no matter how much I told her that I needed this, she wouldn't listen to reason. During the fight, I must have put too much force into my attacks, because a few seconds later, she wasn't breathing and…and…" There was a thick aura of dread in the room that was nearly suffocating, and the vibes of despair were strong enough that even Felix could feel them emanating from the trembling young man that was holding onto that kimono so tightly.
Taking a sharp breath, Keiichi quickly opened up a drawer in his desk, causing Felix to fear for the worst and rush to his "little brother's" side. "Get a hold of yourself, man," Felix said as he forcefully grabbed onto Keiichi's arm that was still gripping the handle of the drawer. "Listen, I know this has to be hurting you like crazy, but whatever happened isn't your fault! You're a lot of things Keiichi, but you're definitely not the kind of the person to purposely do something so horrible to a loved-"
"I was reaching for my cell phone," Keiichi growled as he looked down at the phone sitting on top of a few pens and paperclips, allowed Felix to breathe a sigh of relief. "I'm going to bring all of the crime lords here to Toronto for a meeting: they're probably all wondering where I've been the past two weeks…"
"…damn it all, amigo," Felix said in exasperation as Keiichi pulled out the cell phone. "For a second I thought you were going to do something crazy."
"Who said I wasn't?" Keiichi said with a chilling smirk of grim fatalism as turned around to face the city below. "After I finish making all of the calls, I'm going to call the Chinese Triads and tell them the meeting location, at which point they will no doubt send every bit of firepower to have to raze anything they see…and then I'll contact that Interpol ninja I told you about and wait for him to send Interpol's best to add even more fuel to the fire I'm starting."
With the tails of his longcoat flowing behind him as he quickly turned back to Felix, Keiichi's smirk widened into a mad grin, not even noticing the expression of fear and concern in the boxer's face. "Felix, tell Claude and Igor that I'll be expecting them in my office at noon sharp in two days! I didn't deserve an angel like Areva…so as my first and last act as the leader of this loathsome Sheol, I'm going to dig out the wart of organized crime with a knife and damn myself with enough blood and sin that I'll never see her again even in the afterlife!"
"Someone will always be stronger than you are, somewhere in the world."
This is an inescapable truth known to everyone who practices the art of fighting, even to the infamous "Fist God of a North" Lance Levesque. Though many believed him to be an undefeated warrior, Lance knew the bitter truth: he had been defeated, during his international aid trip to Thailand where a kickboxer defeated him in a sparring session. Even though this happened twenty years before, Lance never stopped thinking about that one black mark on his record: even though there would always be a stronger fighter somewhere out there, Lance could never stomach the thought of the possibility that someone could defeat him before his goals were fulfilled.
There had always been challengers for Lance to crush as the leader of Sheol, but the past two months had given even the mighty Fist God of the North reason to sweat. Never before had so many powerful fighters rise up to challenge him at once, and it came to a point where Lance had to leave his office in Toronto and personally weed out the upstarts. Lance couldn't remember the last time he felt so nervous about losing a fight, which for almost twenty years wasn't even a possibility in his eyes: it was a sign that Lance had become complacent in his role as a fist god, and this was a wake-up call that he needed to continue reigning supreme.
And then…he came along. A snarling beast of a man covered in unusual scars sporting a pair of dragon tattoos clashing with one another, representing the constant struggle between good and evil that was obviously tearing him apart. No one, not even that Thai fighter, gave Lance as much trouble as this mysterious berserker, displaying powers and abilities that couldn't possibly belong to any mortal human. But at the end of a violent, bloody battle that would have been written about in myth and legends if there were more spectators, Lance stood victorious and successfully staked his claim as "the world's strongest martial artist."
The unforgiving storm continued to beat against Lance's sweating face as he looked down at his defeated foe. Lance had heard rumors about this man, some tripe about him being the "Blood Red Sandman" who had same powers that Moses had when he clashed with the Egyptians. If this man possessed the Power of God, then what did it say about the man who now stood over his unconscious body. "Power of God, my butt," Lance muttered before taking a handful of the fallen man's unkempt hair and pulling him off the ground. "You're just a punk who doesn't know how to control himself. If you had more training, you wouldn't be howling and hollering like a crazy man and you might have been able to take me down!"
Charging his fist with his ki, Lance reared back and prepared to put his most powerful opponent yet out of his misery. "You've become a liability to yourself and to the world," Lance told the wild man, even though he was still unconscious. "You should thank me for putting you out of your misery: who knows, maybe we'll have a wonderful rematch in Hell!" But before Lance could execute the berserker, the familiar sound of motor whirring filled his ears, causing him to drop the man and turn around to see a motorcycle driving through the snowstorm and forest terrain straight to him.
"…I don't think I've ever seen you in full biker gear, Mrs. Hickenbottom," Lance said with a smirk as he turned to face his secretary as she removed her helmet. "Then again, I guess you had to protect yourself from the Canadian North: not everyone can embrace the frozen kiss of the wilderness like yours truly! How the hell did you find me way out here?"
"With all of the explosions and flashes of light, it wasn't difficult to figure out where you were," Lauren replied with the same stoicness she always had when in Lance's presence. There were several people in Relieve Corporation who were unnerved at how calm Lauren acted even when there were so many crazy things going on at once, giving her a reputation of an ice queen. However, if Lauren drove all the way out here through a terrible snowstorm, then Lance knew he made the right choice at making her his secretary.
"If you drove all the way out here instead of waiting for me to return to the office, it must be because you have urgent news," Lance said as he dusted off the snow building on his gi. "How did the election go?"
"Your bid for the Prime Minister of Canada was approved, sir."
"Excellent," Lance replied with enthusiasm, already forgetting about the wild man that only minutes before had pushed him to his limit. Walking next to his loyal secretary to her motorcycle, the Canadian crime lord smiled. "So tell me, Lauren: even after you learned about the bloody history of Relieve Corporation and how I rose to power, why didn't you take the evidence straight to the police? A straight-laced worker like you I thought would do everything by the book!"
"…BWAHAHAHAH! Don't worry, Lauren, you don't have to answer that: I was just playing," Lance laughed heartily as his secretary's silence. Sitting behind Lauren as they sat down on the motorcycle, the Fist God of the North continued his inquiry. "Did you make all of the arrangements for the safeguarding of my assets like I told you to? Keiichi's been pretty insistent about a hostile takeover: we have to be prepared!"
"Keiichi sent in his letter of resignation this morning, sir."
"Is that right? He must have run off with Petchyindee's daughter…" Lance remembered the name "Petchyindee" quite well, as it was a Petchyindee who delivered him that lone defeat so many years ago. If Keiichi had chosen to throw his lot with a daughter of a Petchyindee, then there was a real possibility that Lance's second defeat would come at her hands…but this time, Lance would be prepared. He would train like he never trained before so that when that Petchyindee did come after him…he would crush her fighting spirit like an insect.
And when that moment of victory came, there would really be no one left to challenge him. He would not only still be the Fist God of the North, but he would also be the Prime Minister of Canada and the supreme ruler of all of organized crime. Both the legal and illegal worlds would be at his mercy, playthings to do with whatever he saw fit.
To that prospect, Lance once again let out a laugh of triumph and excitement as his secretary drove back onto the road through the snowstorm. It was still good to be the God….
What is a role model? Was it someone who led by example, shining like a beacon for his or her followers so that they can lead better lives in their footsteps? Or maybe it was someone who separated themselves from the pack, displaying a rebellious streak that would lead to a wind of change blowing through society. A role model could either gain their admirers by maintaining the order of society, or they could start a rebellion and lead through chaos. But no one specifically sets out to be a role model: often time, their actions speak loud enough to garner attention that the followers naturally flock to them.
As Sarah traveled the world over advertising her campaign for the Olympics, engaging in impromptu duels with practitioners of several different martial arts, she found herself asking these questions as her followers continued to grow. A young and attractive Tae Kwon Do ace conducting a worldwide exhibition tour was apparently quite a lucrative draw, and the fight money Sarah received from her "exhibitions" with other fighters more than funded her traveling expenses as she searched for that "perfect coach" who would guide her to a gold medal.
Her exploits, spreading like wildfire through word of mouth and internet feeds, eventually reached the ears of some very dangerous men, chief among them the mysterious leader of Sheol who sent her an invitation for a sparring session. Sarah knew very little about Sheol or the trouble they caused, but she continued her campaign for the Olympics as she obviously gaining support. Eventually, her travels which started out so innocently now had a video log with well over a million followers worldwide: a video log that led her to finally face the leader of Sheol in Toronto, who was none other than the fabled Fist God of the North Lance Levesque.
The battle was fiercer than anything Sarah experienced: the thrill of battle had always given her a rush, but the high she felt facing a monster like Lance was unreal. There was a place martial artists entered where they shut off everything around them to focus on the battle in front of them, where the difference between victory and defeat were every bit as important as life or death. With one final, desperate strike, Sarah escaped that "zone of fighting" and came to her senses to realize that she had won.
Not only that, she had saved the world from Sheol's deathgrip and exposed their leader. When she uploaded her video log that had her battle in full, the already impressive following she had gained swelled immensely: her entry into the Olympics was met with great fanfare, and her victory was all but assured as the experiences of the battles past gave her a tremendous edge over her opponents. She had left to seek a coach to help her tame her spirit, but in the end it was the fight itself that allowed her to grow.
Yet after the medal ceremony and media interviews, Sarah was strangely quiet when she went to her locker room. "This…this is all I've ever wanted as a martial artist," she said as she stared at her gold medal. "All I've wanted was to represent my country and prove that my passion for Tae Kwon Do was greater than anyone else's. But now that I have that proof…how come I feel like this is only the beginning?"
As Sarah stared at the gold medal hanging around her neck, she thought back to the diverse world she experienced during her training. The boxer from Spain that kept flirting with her even after she knocked him on his butt. The ninja cop from Germany that was kind enough to show her a dance club where she became so drunk she thought a dancing pole was a sandbag, prompting her to snap the pole in half and giving her yet another feat of strength to her resume. The wrestler from England who was nice enough to sit down with her and explain to her the importance of being respectful if she intended to enter the Olympics.
The kickboxer from Thailand that became her best friend…and stole her heart…
"…what the bloody hell am I moping around for?" Sarah said out loud as she pulled up her Tae Kwon Do uniform that had seen her through that wonderful journey where she went from an aspiring Olympian to an internet sensation. "I'm officially the best Tae Kwon Do fighter in the world now: I have a gold medal to prove it! People are going to look up to me, so I need to set the tone so that more and more people can see just how great the world of martial arts is!"
Two weeks after the medal ceremony, Sarah resurfaced announcing that she was going to undergo a new world tour, and this time she was going to bring a proper television crew with her. The kickboxer from Thailand, the ninja cop from Germany, and all of the other brave warriors she encountered on her last excursion would be her guest stars, and together they would spread the word of the diverse world of fighting. That "zone of fighting" that allowed Sarah to emerge victorious against the most overwhelming odds would be recorded for the world over to see, and from that experience, the next generation would become stronger.
What is being a role model? For Sarah Taylor, it is sharing unique experiences with others and hoping that someone, somewhere, would become inspired enough to undergo a tour of self-exploration of their own…
Discipline, Durability, and Dignity: these "Three D's" are what Tony Wilton believe are the meanings to life itself. Discipline is required in every day life, so that one does not completely succumb to selfish desires and alienate those around him. Durability is needed to endure the harsh unpredictability of an increasingly fluid society so that he can withstand the winds of change and see an equally random tomorrow. Dignity is mandatory because without pride, there is no self-respect, and without self-respect, there is no will to live life in its fullest.
Determined to undermine the crime syndicate Sheol that had been a thorn in his side since his days as an Olympian, Tony scoured the world for clues that he would lead him to the elusive leader of the organization, encountering many powerful martial artists on the way. Tony believed with all his heart that there was no fighting art stronger than professional wrestling, which were home to an extremely large number of grappling and submission techniques that could end a fight quickly, and though several fighters came very close to proving him wrong, Tony stood above his opponents in victory.
Until finally, there was but one left: the leader of Sheol himself, the Fist God of the North Lance Levesque.
Tony had heard rumblings of Lance's power from some of the other people he met on his "world tour" representing Global Wrestling Enterprises (which was the only way his federation would condone his obvious vigilantism in striking down Sheol), making him out to be a warrior with no equal in the Northern Hemisphere. He had worried that he was all bluster being that Lance hid his identity in Sheol with such secrecy, but Tony was proven wrong when he actually traded strikes with the Canadian. Lance took very good care of his body, as even as a middle-aged man he was in amazing shape with enough skill to make even a veteran like Tony wonder if he was going to fall.
But just like so many others before him, Lance Levesque fell to the might of Tony's many wrestling maneuvers and a well-placed Wilt-Away Bomb. Placing his foot on top of the fallen crime lord, the First Disciple of the Three D's lifted his fingers into the air and let out a roar of triumph, being sure to do it again when the press came into Lance's office in Toronto and took pictures of Tony's victory over someone who had once been one of the city's most respected citizens. GWE had been looking for some more positive press, and the headlines of the world's newspapers gave a resounding message that made the board of directors smile: "GWE Wrestler from London proves that Professional Wrestling isn't fake!"
With so much positive press surrounding him, Tony Wilton then found someone to fulfill his secondary objective on his world tour: finding a fresh opponent to face him at Grapplemania, the largest professional wrestling event in the world…
Two months after Tony's triumph over Lance Levesque and Sheol, the conquering hero had seemingly turned his back on his loyal fans, letting his victory over the world of crime go to his head. Standing in the ring in front of a sell-out crowd of nearly 100,000 fans at Wembley Stadium, Tony's preaching about the value of his Three D's had reached ad naseum and the crowd was beginning to realize that he was talking down upon them for not upholding these morals.
"I look out at this crowd, and all I see are uncouth ruffians and derelicts that couldn't even tie my boots," Tony shouted into the microphone as he looked out into the massive gathering that his exploits against Sheol had garnered. "You talk about Discipline, yet I see thousands of drunkards hollering like a bunch of teenagers at their first kegger! You talk about Durability, yet I could snap any person in this crowd or in that locker room in half! You talk about Dignity, yet every single one of you make fools of yourself in public!"
The crowd's boos felt like the howling of angry ghosts, but Tony did not cower in fear. In fact, an arrogant smile came across his face and he continued letting the crowd have it. "Following the Three D's is the meaning of life itself, yet you so-called "fans" of mine take it as a mere suggestion! Then again, I suppose not everyone can live up to my expectations…" Holding his GWE Heavyweight title proudly into the sky, Tony's smile widened. "I'm the man who made the bloke Lance Levesque cry for his mum! This title shows that I'm not only the best wrestler in the world, but the best fighter in the-"
Then, like an exorcism, the unfriendly boos turned into wild cheers as the entrance music of GWE's latest star blared through Wembley as a Japanese young man in Japanese calmly walked down whilst taping his hands for the title bout in front of him. Entering the ring to the sound of blinding the cheers, the young man glared silently at Tony as the big man callously walked up to his face. "I was wondering when you'd have the guts to step into the ring," Tony stated haughtily as the young man's eyes narrowed. "I dragged your bum out of Sheol because I thought you had what it took to make me a break a sweat…Keiichi Kobashi, how about you take off your glasses and prove to me that I was right!"
The young man, unintimidated by Tony's obvious size advantage, snatched the microphone and issued his warning. "I don't need to take off my glasses for trash like you." Tossing the microphone away, Keiichi's leg suddenly sped into motion and delivered a blindingly fast high kick to Tony's head, causing the big man to stumble away while Keiichi assumed his fighting stance.
"…he's a natural," Tony said to himself with a smile as he held onto the ropes and waited for the stars to clear out of his head. "Finally, I have a main event I can be proud of!"
Turning around to see Keiichi still waiting for him, Tony flexed his muscles one last time before lifting his arm for a crushing lariat, engaging the match that he knew in his heart would end in the five star rating that only legends like him obtained.
The term "competition" is something that is used for all walks of life, be it animal or vegetable. Plants compete with each other for sunlight and nutrients within the soil, until one plant is thriving and the other is wilting. Beasts compete with each other for food, shelter, and mates so that the stronger species lives and the other dies away. Humans, however, compete not just for their survival, but for recreation. Whether it be for team sports such as basketball or baseball or combat sports like boxing and fencing, society thrives on the spirit of competition.
The question of "why do humans compete?" drove Ulisse Giordano to become a psychologist specializing in martial artists, who compete with one another and themselves in the endless search for enlightenment. When the crime syndicate Sheol threatened to disrupt the quest for inner harmony by pressuring fighters around the world into joining their organization, the man formerly known as the Iron Curtain of Venice left Italy to put an end to Sheol's meddling. Along the way, he met fighters of many different backgrounds and motivations, awakening the dormant warrior within the Aikido user and reminding Ulisse that even he was not immune to the thrill of competition.
Ulisse's investigation led him to Toronto, where he encountered the crime syndicate's leader Lance Levesque. Lance, like Ulisse, was a martial artist that had been around for many years, renowned for his strength and prowess in both the ring and society. Whereas Ulisse had become a respected psychologist, Lance was a self-made billionaire who ran a large pharmaceutical company and was considered one of Canada's greatest business minds. However, Lance's true motives of dominating all of organized crime were unmistakably evil, bringing the two veterans into conflict.
The battle was intense, and the warrior blood that had been stirring since the start of the journey erupted into a full boil for Ulisse. The rumors of Lance's power did him no justice: facing him in battle, Ulisse learned that the Canadian's karateka reputation was actually being modest. Both Ulisse and Lance, in their prime, were hailed as deities in their respective fighting arts, and now that they were older and wiser, their battle was truly a battle to decide who was the most well-versed in the art of fighting. In the end, it was Ulisse that stood victorious after an extremely close battle, asserting his place as a master of self-defense.
An hour passed as Ulisse stood at the edge of the window of Lance's office, looking out into the city below reflecting on his journey. The answer to the burning question of why humans competed that drove him to become a psychologist was beginning to come into fruition. By distancing himself from active participation in combat sports and looking at the world from an objective view, Ulisse hoped to discover that answer. But it wasn't until Ulisse decided to re-enter that world of fighting that fascinated him that he realized that the answer could only be discovered within, not from without.
"…if I had known warriors like you still existed, I wouldn't have been so quick to call myself the Fist God of the North."
After an hour of silence, Lance Levesque rose back up to his feet and spoke to the warrior that toppled him for only the second time in his long fighting career. "I've heard your name before, a long time ago. I didn't really pay much attention to you because at the time I was worried about getting my professional career started. Maybe if I had sought you out like a true warrior would, I wouldn't have been so surprised by your strength."
"Do not short-change yourself, Signore Levesque," Ulisse replied calmly as he turned around to face his defeated foe. "You fought extremely well: this bout could have gone either way. Today, I was the victor: the next time we meet, the results could be different."
"What makes you think there will be a next time?" Lance asked with a hint of anger as his conqueror stepped away from the window. The defeated crime lord pressed his hands against his desk and let the sweat and blood drip from his face, mesmerized by the fluids that Ulisse had drawn from him in their battle. "I know exactly why you came here: you wanted to destroy Sheol, and by taking me down, you've done just that. I imagine you've already called the police, so why talk about rematches when I'm going to be in prison for the foreseeable future?"
"…I have a proposition for you," Ulisse placed a hand on the shoulder of the most powerful adversary he had ever faced, caring little for the possibility that Lance could strike out at a moment's notice. Both warriors were still exhausted from the battle, so even if they had an immediate rematch, it would not be nearly as impressive as the fight before. Perhaps realizing this, Lance did not retaliate and listened to Ulisse.
"Signore Levesque, it has been my life's goal to discover the meaning of why people compete. I believe that discovering the answer to this question will allow society to better understand what we do. The fight that we had today was truly the stuff of legends: in another age, songs would have been sung about it."
"Abandon Sheol, signore," the Iron Curtain of Venice allowed Lance to turn around so that he could see the outstretched hand of friendship that Ulisse offered. "With your influence, you could help me show the world just how marvelous the art of fighting truly is. The kind of fight we had has been considered barbaric for too long. If we could re-enact our battle, this time in front of spectators…then we could unlock the secrets of competition for the world to see!"
Lance looked down at the hand pensively, placing his own hand under his chin as he looked at the hand, then back up to Ulisse's sincere expression. Though he was careful not to show his delight to the ever-opportunistic Fist God of the North, Ulisse immediately recognized the way the gears in Lance's head were turning. Lance had proven himself over the years to be a master manipulator who thought of business before anything else…but even he could not ignore the prospect of making others understand the thrill of combat.
Finally, Lance smirked and outstretched his own hand to meet Ulisse's. "I was getting bored with Sheol, anyway…what you're proposing sounds much more fun for old souls like us!"
Working together, Lance and Ulisse changed the way the world looked at the fighting arts. Rather than being restricted to a single field, the two encouraged martial artists to explore competition outside of their area of expertise. In doing so, there was no longer a debate on which martial art was better than the other, as the fighting world joined hands and learned from each other.
And thus, Ulisse Giordano's name became synonymous with "the psychology of competition…"
Everyone wants something.
Society has long used the term "selfish" as a derogatory connotation, but Xiahou Ren knew that society was flawed for thinking that. Whether it be companionship, wealth, fame, respect, peace, revenge, or anything else, every living creature had something that drove them to continue living. For Ren, he desired only two things: a substantial paycheck, and an exciting job. In the days of his youth, he would be derided as a greedy and cruel boy, and this didn't change even when he was drafted into the military where discipline should have been instilled into him.
Though Xiahou Ren became stronger and less reckless from his time in the military, it was impossible to change what was human nature. When Ren was dishonorably discharged from the military, he resumed looking for ways to fill his simple desires by becoming a mercenary. Eventually, he became an extremely feared and respected mercenary, proving that his philosophy of "everyone wants something" had merit. Only someone with Xiahou Ren's reputation would be contracted by the Chinese Triads to capture the mysterious leader of the mighty Sheol, and Ren took great delight in how he was tasked with such a dangerous mission.
Believing one of the powerful "Golems of Sheol" to be the leader, Xiahou Ren gathered as much intel as he could on the quartet of warriors before setting off on his worldwide manhunt. Along the way, he encountered several warriors who foolishly still believed in things like justice and altruism: Ren took great pleasure in crushing them like bugs and proving how wrong they were. The first 3 Golems of Sheol were only slightly better off, instead fighting out of either loyalty towards Sheol or trying to right some sort of wrong done to them. Again, Xiahou Ren proved his "me first" ideal was stronger than those mundane concepts.
Finally, Xiahou Ren discovered the identity of the final Golem, and as such the elusive leader of the powerful Sheol crime syndicate. Lance Levesque was much more like what Ren would expect a high-ranking member of the organization to be like: extremely ambitious with an insatiable lust for power and respect, and not above belittling others to get it. Best of all, he was a warrior who focused only on himself, and therefore had unnecessary distractions to keep him from becoming as powerful as possible, just like Ren himself. Lance understood that truly being strong meant relying only on oneself, and not being held back by having others depend on you.
The battle could have gone either way, with two completely self-reliant martial artists duking it out to see whose ambition was stronger. It was a very refreshing change of pace for Ren, who for most of his manhunt had to deal with self-righteous fools who had so much skill and prowess but wasted it on the sake of others rather than benefitting themselves. Lance Levesque was different: he would have been someone Ren would be proud to call an employer had things turned out differently.
After a long battle, Ren wiped the sweat from his brow and looked down at Lance Levesque, now just one of the many people defeated by the mercenary. "All things considered…you're pretty good," the mercenary said between breaths, "but I didn't come all this way just to spar with you. I'm sure someone as smart as you know the real reason I'm here, and what's going to happen next."
"The Chinese Triads are full of old fools who can't grasp the future," Lance replied with a smirk, still lying on the floor from his loss to the mercenary. "They only see my vision as just one of the many power plays made in the underworld…but they couldn't be more wrong." The fallen crime lord suddenly sat up, surprising Xiahou Ren as he jumped back and assumed his fighting stance. Rather than stand back up completely, Lance remained in a sitting position and continued speaking. "70% of all organized crime now belongs to me: that kind of acquisition only comes from people who have a clear vision of the future. The Chinese Triads sent you because they only see my ambition as two-bit."
"That makes absolutely no difference to me," Ren said as he walked over to Lance and picked him up by the collar of his gi. "All I know is that they hired me to bring you back with me to China, where they're probably going to torture you to death, or offer you some minor position as a sign of good faith…"
"HANDS IN THE AIR, NOW!"
Darting his head around, Xiahou Ren's eyes widened as standing behind him were a dozen armored soldiers pointing rifles directly at him. One of the men, who judging from his altered uniform Ren assumed was the commander, stepped at the front of the line and barked orders at the Chinese mercenary. "Xiahou Ren, you are under arrest! By assaulting Lance Levesque, one of the most respected business leaders in the Western Hemisphere, you have been accused of terrorism and will be put on trial as such!"
"You…," Xiahou Ren slowly turned his head to the smiling Lance, still as arrogant and sure of himself as ever. "…you set me up. You knew I was coming and so you came prepared!"
"And what you do next will decide whether or not you walk out of here a free man," Lance whispered as the armed soldiers continued barking at Ren, though the mercenary was much more intent on listening to what Lance had to say. "I have money, and lots of it. Whatever the Triad is paying you probably can't compare to my fortune with Relieve Corporation or Sheol's money laundering. If you make your services exclusive to me, not only will you be getting a better deal, but I'll get you out of this…predicament."
"…you're very underhanded," Ren growled.
"It's the only kind of hand I play," Lance retorted.
Ren stared into Lance's eyes, scanning him for any weaknesses. This was not the first time a target tried to bargain with him, and every time that bargain was filled with fear. There wasn't a trace of that fear or weakness in Lance's eyes, but rather respect. Lance Levesque respected Xiahou Ren, and he could sense that the feeling was mutual. Besides, Lance also held all the cards: if Ren refused, he'd be going to prison for the rest of his days or be shot to death trying to escape. If Ren accepted, he'd become a member of Sheol and he would live to perform another mission.
The choice was obvious.
"…this is all a big misunderstanding, boys," Lance said loud enough for the soldiers to hear as Xiahou Ren let go of his collar and he dusted himself off. "I invited Mr. Ren here because I wanted to spar! He's no terrorist…in fact, he's a very good friend of mine!" The crime lord turned to the Chinese mercenary with that same arrogant smirk he had since Ren walked into his office, knowing full well that he had made a very valuable acquisition. "Aren't you, Ren?"
"…yes, sir, I am," Ren said quietly.