Characters in this story are from the "Rumble Roses" game and are property of the Konami Corporation. No money is being made from this story, no infringement is intended.
Reiko Hinomoto stood there in her skimpy shorts and halter top, holding the umbrella over the pit crew as they worked on the engine of Toshiro's car. Within a minute, they'd have him back on the track again. The TV cameras, as she well knew, would be sure to get a great shot of her butt as well as the greasemonkeys, Toshiro, and the car.
Ah, well. Such was the life of a race queen, and at least it gave her some free publicity for her gig as a woman wrestler.
"Got it," said the pit chief. "He's good to go."
Toshiro gave a thumb's-up to them all and the crew put him back on the cinders within seconds. Reiko gave him an enthusiastic wave, playing to the crowd. She wondered if she'd caught his eye. Truth to tell, she wouldn't mind dating him, if she'd actually had time to date, if he'd actually consider asking her. Then again, some of the other crewmen had tried coming onto her. A reverse wristlock on one who tried to grope her taught the rest that she didn't suffer unwanted attention. It also made her the secret darling of the other race queens, who often weren't as fortunate in such cases.
The sun burned her shoulders even through the protective sunblock she'd put on. Idly, Reiko thought of some of the ring women of Japan, the ones who had inspired her. Her mother, Kamikaze Rose, came first. But there were so many others. Mari Akagi, Mimi Hagiwara, Chigusa, the Jumping Bomb Angels, Jaguar Yokota, even that American girl, Malia Hosaka. She'd been raised among wrestlers. Her mother was one of the best, and she'd raised Reiko and Reiko's sister to follow in her bootprints.
And Heaven knows, both of them took to the lessons well. Reiko might have been small, but she could make a man much larger than her scream in pain from one of her deadly holds. She'd even tested herself against martial artists in sparring and come out tops, often as not. As nice-tempered as she was, Reiko was definitely a contender in the ring.
But her mother was dead now, and her sister, Fujiko, was missing. Reiko had joined the Rumble Roses organization as soon as she was of age in order to find the lost girl. So far, she'd stayed lost. But there were times when Reiko almost sensed her close at hand...
She turned towards the voice. It was one of the pit crew guys in his overalls. Beside him was a photographer, laden with cameras and looking smug. "This guy wants to get a honey shot," said the pit guy. "Probably more than one."
"Okay." She didn't even bother to shrug. Holding the opened umbrella overhead which she ostensibly used to shield Toshiro from the sun, Reiko angled her body to thrust her breasts forward and her butt prominently backward, at an angle which she hoped would give the guy the shot he wanted. Not a big deal anymore. If she'd been shy about showing her body, she wouldn't have gotten into wrestling.
Wistfully, she wished she was posing for a wrestling mag. But, hey, almost any publicity was good publicity.
"Oh, that's great, honey. Can you give me that far-away look again?"
"What?" She looked at him, confused. Then she said, "Uh, no. Don't think so. Just a spur-of-the-moment thing. Sorry."
"Damn." The photographer reeled past his last shot. Reiko obliged him with several more poses, until he said, "That's it. Thanks a lot, missy."
"Oh...you're welcome." She looked out over the track, listening to the roar of the cars, and wondering how she'd preserved her hearing this long, even using earplugs at times.
The track, she decided, had to be a metaphor for something. Life? No, the track would still be there when an individual life was gone. How about the world? Yes, that fit better. The racers on the track could symbolize Life, or individual lives. They faced danger, were on for a very short time, and eventually had to leave the track. Other racers would replace them. She smiled, pleased that she'd constructed a decent metaphor.
Philosophy. Sometimes it was all you had to get you by.
Still...sometimes, she was lonely. Wasn't too much time for dating, what with both of her jobs. Also, a lot of the time, her other job kept her recovering from taking bumps, which cut down on her dating time.
Oh, come off it, Reiko, she told herself. You're just covering up the fact that you haven't been out with a man in months.
Perhaps it was time to take the bull by the horns.
When the checkered flag came down, Toshiro hadn't won, but he'd racked up a respectable third place. The custom was for the photogs to get a shot of the driver being embraced by the race queen as well as surrounded by the crew, and she was happy to oblige. Only this time...well, this time, Reiko felt nervous.
Ridiculous, she told herself. He's only a guy.
Yeah, he's only a guy. And he could get a new girl to hold his umbrella, and gigs are hard to come by these days.
Then again, so were guys.
So, when the shutters clicked and the pictures were taken, Reiko leaned in closer towards Toshi's ear while she hugged him. "Toshiro. I need to talk with you as soon as possible."
"Huh?" He looked bumfuzzled a bit, even comical, like a raccoon in negative with the dirt everywhere on his face except where his goggles had been.
Reiko felt as though she'd rather be facing Dixie Clements and Gojira without a tag partner just then. She took a breath. "Toshi, are you seeing someone? I could use a date."
His jaw went to half-mast and then he remembered to smile for the photographers. "Later, Reiko. We'll talk about it once I'm back from the locker room, okay?"
She gave an unaffected grin and hugged him harder. "Sure. Just remember. Promise."
"I promise, honey. Now...keep that smile on."
Altogether, Reiko was sure her teeth were gleaming brighter than even the whitening treatment had made them, at that moment.
"So, let's get this straight. You want a date with me? As in, we go out?"
Reiko nodded, and bit her tongue against the snappy comebacks that threatened to flow from her. "Yes. Something like that, Toshiro-san."
"Uh, well." He said. "Reiko. I've got to ask you something."
She sat and crossed her hands over one knee, waiting.
"Is this a career move on your part? Because I have to tell you, I don't do favors."
She chuckled. "No, Toshiro. I'm just kind of, well, lonely. You have heard of the word before, I'm sure, before you became a racer."
He laughed. "Reiko-chan, and you a wrestler? They throw your picture up on a video wall when you fight and a half-thousand tongues hang out. I've seen it."
"I'm working on the other half-thousand."
"Then I'll work harder."
Toshiro slapped his gloves on the bench beside him. "You parade around in that outfit when you're here, you wear one just about as skimpy when you're in the ring, and you mean to tell me you can't find a guy to date you?"
"Uh..." She searched for the right phrase. "The guys I come in contact with, they're usually not interested in just a date."
"Oh." Toshiro paused. "And you think I'm just interested in one, huh?"
"I trust you more than that," she said. "I just...want to be out with somebody, Toshiro. Go to dinner, do the town a little, all that stuff. Get away from the ring and the track and the gym for awhile. Can you...would you..."
Toshiro sighed and scratched the back of his head. "There's a lot of girls want to warm my bed, Reiko. Sometimes..."
"I wasn't saying anything about you," he said. "I just...sometimes our situations aren't that different, if you know what I mean."
"Oh." Reiko uncrossed her legs and looked at him with a bit of understanding.
"Tell you what," said Toshiro. "I believe in Fate. It's what lets me take a loss, or a win, almost the same way. Keeps my mind together. Do you believe in fate?"
"Sometimes. When I have to."
He leaned in closer. "You have a match this Wednesday. Right?"
"Uh, yes. With Anesthesia."
"Well, then, here's what I say. If you win the match, we'll go out. I pay everything. If you lose, well, we'll think about it sometime down the line."
"Oh, Toshi." She was trying to grab her heart and arrest its sudden free-fall. "Oh..."
"No, honey. I want to go out with you, just for the heck of it. But...it's Fate. You win, you win. You lose...we're both still professionals. Take it or leave it."
"This is so cruel." Reiko was on the point of getting up and leaving, not ever looking back. But...there was the fact of her employment. There was also the fact that such a condition would be an even greater goad for her to win, four days from now.
There was, thirdly, the fact that he was the best deal she had so far.
"One more thing, Reiko-chan. If you do accept...will you get me a ticket?"
She smiled, finally. "Not a front-row. Those are taken up."
"I'll see you wherever I am," he said. "Believe it."
"I believe you."
"Just don't make it a balcony. I hate the balcony. Okay?"
"You've got it," she said, and kissed him on his formerly-grimy cheek.
So. That was the situation, as Reiko filled in the few days between the race and her match. With love and pride as the goal, the small beauty had stepped up her training schedule, ate plenty of protein (but not enough to bust her waistline), watched videos of Anaesthesia's matches, and took relaxants to help her get to sleep. She was that keyed-up, and she knew she had to catch her eight hours every night.
Dixie Clemets served as her sparring partner during the Sunday-through-Tuesday stint. Despite all their battles in the ring, Reiko loved the big blonde Texan girl, and Dixie reciprocated. The American chick had the edge in strength, but was astonished by Reiko's speed and wrestling skills this time around. The little one had her pinned with a sunset flip before Dixie kicked out of it and circled to her feet, but Reiko was already up and in a combat stance by the time Dixie faced her.
Enough of that, thought Dixie, and held up one hand. "Hold on, darlin'. Let's call it an afternoon, okay?"
Sighing, Reiko sat down on the blue mat in their gym. She assumed a cross-legged position, sweaty in a yellow bikini and bare feet. Dixie, who wore a white sports bra and biker shorts for the sparring, just flopped down on her butt with her legs spread. The two of them needed a breather, and how. Dixie tossed her hair back to get it out of her eyes. She was puffing harder than the Japanese girl, but was glad Reiko had to get her wind back, too.
"So," said Dixie, after a few more seconds. "Who's the guy?"
Reiko frowned. "Who said anything about a guy?"
"Honey, I may be country, but I ain't dumb. Listen. You're wearin' different makeup than you usually do. Back home, we call that war paint. But trust me, you look a whole lot better with your usual face. Got me?"
"Well, I'll take it into advisement." She smiled.
"Also, you've been tryin' out more moves than Butch McCracken tried on me in the back seat of his Chevy on graduation night. Seems to me like you got somebody you really wanna impress gonna be watchin' you rassle."
Reiko leaned back, almost letting her shoulder blades touch the mat. "He's coming to see me wrestle, all right. Don't think he's ever seen me live. Well, not wrestling, that is."
"Gimme the details, darling."
She sat forward, then lay on her stomach, her chin supported on her crossed wrists. "Toshiro. I'm going to wrestle with Toshiro watching."
"That guy who does your version of Nascar?"
"It isn't Nascar, and yes, that's him." Reiko rolled over on her back, like a lolling cat. "I'm going to wrestle for him and I'm going to make Anaesthesia into sushi for him."
Dixie clucked her tongue. "Better not get too heady, darlin'. Ana's been trainin', too. And from what I hear, she ain't exactly in the mood to take prisoners, if you know what I mean."
"So? She's tough. So am I. I can take bumps, Dixie. You know that."
"That I do, honeybunch. But you better have a clear mind when you get in that ring, and not be concerned with showin' off for your boyfriend. Both of us are buds when we get off the mat. You and Ana ain't."
"True enough," said Reiko. "But I'm up for this one, Dixie. I'm motivated. Feel like I could go up against a sumo and feed him his topknot."
"Confidence is one thing, Reiko. Push it enough, you got something that'll help. Push it too much..." Dixie spread her hands. "You get what I'm sayin'?"
"I do." Anaesthesia, the Hispanic wrestler, was one of the meaner girls in the Rumble Roses stable. She affected the costume of a nurse, and was said to have some medical training. Reiko had her share of matches against Ana, and had won most of them. But the woman flat out enjoyed hurting Reiko, and every one of her wins had been by submission. In turn, Reiko had enjoyed making Ana submit in their matches afterward.
Too, there was an element of mystery about Ana, one almost as deep as that of Evil Rose. She'd once intimated she knew something secretive about Reiko's late mother, and possibly about her sister as well. But Reiko had never learned just what she knew.
Well, heck. She was just another woman. It'd be just another match. And Reiko was determined to kick the stuffing out of her. Now, Dixie was saying something. "What?"
"Earth to Reiko."
"I was just wondering where Toshiro was gonna take you out when you do go datin'. You decided on that? Or is it just gonna be pizza and a DVD?"
Dixie scootched in closer. "Give, honeybuns. Don't just say, 'Wellll' to me!"
Reiko buried her hands in her hair. "He told me we'd go out if I won the match."
Dixie didn't say anything.
"I know I'm stupid, Dixie. Or at least I seem stupid to you. But believe me, I want a date right now bad enough to, oh, even wrestle you for it!"
When Dixie finally spoke, she said something that Reiko didn't understand at all.
"Mother of Mercy. Is this the end of Reiko?"
In another gym, in another part of town, Anesthesia sat cross-legged in meditation. She was nude. The light was very subdued, almost nonexistent. She was there with another. The other was speaking, softly.
"What do you visualize?"
Ana's eyes were closed as she spoke. "My foe. Reiko." The last word was hissed out.
"What is she doing?"
"She is screaming in pain as I torture her body."
"How long will this go on?"
"Until I receive...satisfaction."
"Will you have regrets?"
"That I may only make her submit twice. And that I cannot destroy her."
There was a long pause before her questioner spoke again.
"Go, my child. You are ready."
Anesthesia breathed in deeply, shudderingly. She punished herself for that, mentally. Her breath had to be as controlled as all other parts of herself. Only thus could she be worthy of the gift of cruelty she needed most. The sweet sadism that would punish Reiko Hinomoto beyond her ability to recover. The strength, the power, and the skills she needed to send her opponent to hell.
Where, she hoped, Reiko might finally view her mother.
Ana dared to open her eyes. She was alone.
She smiled, thought of what she would do to Reiko in the ring, and gave way to self-pleasure.
The girls of Rumble Roses always had a few butterflies in their stomachs when they made the journey down the runway to the ring. Sometimes it was about how they looked. No matter how beautiful others might find them, they always found a strand of hair out of place, or a part of their bodies they were displeased with, or an aspect of the other girl they were jealous of. That, they reckoned, was normal.
Sometimes it was about the thought of all those people, over a thousand of them in the arena and Lord only knew how many watching on TV or later on the DVD replays, and knowing you had to perform for All Of Them.
Most of the time, it was about the match.
You were going to go into a small ring against another woman who was strong, competitive, and trained in the art of pain-making. For about twenty minutes, on the average, you would have to fight, and fight hard. You would have to give and take torment that would turn the average human female into a mass of compound fractures. And in the Rumble Roses ring, there wasn't any interfering referee. The girls knew what they could and couldn't do. If you stepped over the line too blatantly, you were out, and that was it. There was a lot you could get away with, though, and many times you were on both ends of such punishment.
It didn't matter if you were friends before or after the match. In fact, most of the Roses were on a cordial basis. That wouldn't prevent the little hussy you were facing from trying to punch out your lights or twist your limbs off. The marks paid to see a girl fight, and a girl fight was what they got.
Reiko was proud that many of the girls in her troupe came out to watch her wrestle. If they were entertained by your skills, instead of spending the time backstage, that was a great tribute. Dixie told her that, in the Seventies, as she'd heard from American managers, that was the case with Bob Backlund, a grappler of that time. He was so good that the other wrestlers just had to come out front and watch him. Not just to pick up on his moves, but to admire his skills.
That was what they did for Reiko now, and she was appreciative of it.
Her theme music started, the sparklers at the sides of the stage went off, and the big modified flag of Japan came down. The cheers started on cue, approximately 1,500 Pavlovian dogs sending up a big howl. Reiko Hinomoto, all 5 foot 7 of her, started down the catwalk, giving all and sundry a look at her well-honed body.
She was wearing her familiar red bra and shorts with the choker and finger gloves, her trademarked lucky outfit with the "Zero" on one breast...a pun on the first syllable of her name, "Rei", which meant zero in Japanese. Reiko didn't mind strutting and giving the crowd what they wanted, up to a point. She made her living with her body and was quite comfortable with it.
However, she had made one change in her outfit. Toshiro had asked her to wrestle barefoot for him. So, tonight, she left off her customary lace-up red knee boots and paraded towards the ring in a pair of shower sandals, which she would take off inside the squared circle. The two guys and one girl commenting on the match made note of it, and figured she was playing to the foot fetishists in the audience. In one case, she was.
Reiko threw her typical hand salute to the crowd, stepped onto the ring apron, grasped the top of one post with one hand, and vaulted over the top rope into the ring. She pumped a red-gloved fist into the air. Another round of sparklers went off amidst the cheers, and, as the runway folded up behind her, she snatched a glance at the big videoscreen against one wall. Her image was there, with her name on a crawl below it, shrinking a bit as it made room for an array of stats about her wrestling career on the right.
That was an ego-booster, to be sure.
And somewhere out there, Toshiro was watching.
She didn't know where, didn't want to know where. She'd just had her manager send him some tickets and made sure he got them. Now, she was going to give him a show and, yes, get a date with him. That is, if she could beat...when she could beat...
Another theme song came up. Reiko jerked her head in its direction, knowing the camera caught her movement and hoping it didn't look too bad. When the curtain came down on the other side, there weren't sparklers going off. Instead, it was purple dry-ice smoke, through which her opponent strode like a violet-suited ice queen. The music was much darker than Reiko's theme. It suited the personality of her opponent.
Ana had altered her attire for this bout, as well, Reiko saw. The woman's customary nurse's outfit had been dropped for a violet bikini, one that showed almost every inch of her threatening body. She, too, was barefoot, and wore her usual purple nurse's cap. That she'd take off in the ring. Despite the altered pictures that came out of her, a hat would never have stayed on in a wrestling match. To complete her "nasty nurse" persona, she also had a stethoscope draped about her neck. That seemed ridiculous, but it was all part of stagecraft.
Her brown hair was only a trifle longer than Reiko's. Both of them sometimes wanted to wear their hair as long as Dixie's, but that only gave an opponent more to grab. Anesthesia was a couple of inches taller than Reiko, but gave the impression of being much bigger than she really was.
She was a threat. But Reiko reassured herself that she'd met that threat multiple times in the ring, and had won more bouts than she'd lost.
Ana didn't seem to be looking anywhere but directly at Reiko. The smaller beauty gave her back her stare, and forced herself to add some venom to it. Still, for all her experience, Reiko had to admit there was something chilling about Ana's demeanor this time.
Well, nuts. Time to get this thing underway. Reiko bounced up and down in her corner, working off some of the nervous tension. Ana stepped between the top two ropes, stretched on the corner ropes to best display her body to the crowd, then took off her nurses' cap and stethoscope (a fake...the real ones were heavy and would have hurt whomever it fell on) and threw them to the audience. She seemed to have the confidence of a lioness. Tonight, she was the complete wrestling bitch, and filled the role eminently.
The two women stepped to center ring for the face-off. Reiko was determined to get in the first word. "Welcome back, Ana. If it's a fight you want—"
"It won't be a fight," said Ana, in her affected British accent. "It'll be a slaughter. And you will be the slaughteree."
Reiko bristled. That, she judged, was a lot more useful than being afraid. "Oh, grow up. I've fought you a lot of times, and we both know who's won the most."
Ana looked down upon her with icy intent. "It only matters who wins the last, little one. And this is the last."
"Oh. It'll be anything but...fun."
There was nothing more to be said. The two of them went back to their corners and waited for the bell. Actually, it was just a sound effect played through the PA system, but it served the same purpose. It was a call to battle, a call to pain.
That was the sound Reiko heard now.
Adrenalin started pumping through her body as she moved towards center ring again, doing the circle dance with Anesthesia. She thought, for a second, of Toshiro, then banished his image from her mind. The world had shrunk down to herself, the ring, and Ana now. That was where it would stay until the three-round match was done.
Anesthesia had something more to say.
"Prepare to suffer, little girl, like never before."
Then they began.
Reiko was determined to get in the first move, and had one honed that Anesthesia hadn't seen before. At least, not from her. With an acrobatic leap, she launched herself at her bikini-clad foe, snagged her right arm between her legs in a scissors grip, and slung the other girl to the mat. The audience cheered, and Reiko let herself fantasize that she could hear Toshiro cheering through the din. Nonetheless, she had to capitalize on her move.
Ana was up on her hands and knees within a second of hitting the mat, and her strong right leg lashed out and kicked Reiko hard in the ribs. The smaller girl grunted in pain, and was unable to dodge Ana's follow-up move: a vicious chop to the side of the neck. She felt like she'd been struck by a maul. Reiko reeled against the ropes, and Ana connected with a terrific savate kick to the face. The heroine of the Rumble Roses slumped to the mat.
All of that within the first minute of combat. Reiko's face was reddened with more than physical contact.
The bigger girl was moving in again to do more damage. Reiko decided not to let her do it. She rolled to her feet, tackled Ana's long, bronzed legs, and bore both of them to the mat. The villainess hissed, but it didn't matter. Reiko was on top of her, launching punch after punch to her foe's face. Her red-gloved knuckles were doing their work. Ana grimaced and shut her eyes in pain. But she, too, was hardly finished.
A sweeping elbow strike caught Reiko in the nose and knocked her sidewise, making her eyes close and tear in pain. Anesthesia shoved her off, grabbed her by the hair, and slung her to the other side of the mat. Before Reiko, lying face down, could get up, Ana did an elbow drop to her kidney. The young wrestlerette's head came up as she gasped in agony. Anesthesia, who had seen the move used by a bad guy in a Van Damme movie, allowed herself a moment of pleasure.
Reiko felt like a spiked steamroller had run her over. But she couldn't afford to submit. Not this early in the match. Even if it was a three-rounder, she had her pride. And she had to show her man what she could do.
With a smile, Ana pulled Reiko up from the mat and locked her into a torture hold, the abdominal stretch. "Time to take your medicine," Ana said, loud enough for the front rows to hear. Then she put on the pressure.
Reiko groaned and sweat, her eyes shut tight in pain. Anesthesia's powerful body was forcing more and more pain upon her own, stretching her abdominal muscles beyond their normal limits. The crowd howled like Romans in a gladiatorial area, turned on by the spectacle of female violence. Anesthesia's wicked grin was pleasing both the male and female sadists in the audience. But the young girls who counted Reiko as their heroine were suffering along with her.
All Reiko could do was try and endure the pain till Ana let her go. She bit her lower lip and refused to tap out. But the pain was terrible.
Finally, Ana threw Reiko down to the mat again. Putting her opponent out of the game this fast wasn't in her playbook. Also, she had a show to put on, a spectacle of punishment and revenge. The little bitch wasn't going to get off that easily.
Reiko allowed herself the luxury of resting for a second and sucking in breath, on her hands and knees. Anesthesia had been a tough foe before, but not as vicious as she was today. The younger girl knew now that she was in for one of her toughest fights ever.
But she was not without strategy. Reiko let Anesthesia move in closer, then kicked out with her well-shaped leg and contacted her foe in the ankles. She swept Ana's legs out from under her and sent her to the canvas with a satisfying thud. The Dark Nightingale grunted in pain. Reiko promised herself she'd multiply that by a factor of twelve.
Grabbing Ana's right foot, she sent several barefoot kicks into the back of her opponent's leg. Anesthesia held back her cries of pain, but her eyes closed, her teeth ground, and she grasped her thigh from the punishment. Determinedly, Reiko stepped over her foe's leg and pushed her lower leg down hard, subjecting her to a spinning toehold. This time, she did make Ana groan.
The submission hold took its toll on Ana. Reiko didn't feel any pity for her foe, and she knew just how to use her weight to put more pressure on Ana's sexy leg. To add to the pain, she was twisting the nurse's bare foot. Anesthesia groaned, writhed, and kicked the mat with her free bare foot.
"Say it," advised Reiko. "I'm not getting off until you do."
"Only one thing I'll say, and that's go to hell!" Ana pushed herself to the side with her free foot, swiveled, and knocked Reiko off her pins. The brown-haired Japanese girl went down on her front again, unable to put her arms out in time to cushion her chest from the fall. Anesthesia kept her leg grip on Reiko's leg, and bent it double with a leg scissors. She grasped Reiko's bare foot and twisted it in payback, managing to bend her opponent's big toe back as well. Reiko emitted a groan of horrible pain.
Anesthesia worked on Reiko's lovely leg as hard as she could. Reiko was suffering, which afforded her bikini-clad opponent much pleasure. There was no thought of showing any mercy or pity to the girl. She hated Reiko and wanted to see her suffer and hear her groan. And every groan she gave put Ana that much closer to satisfaction.
The smaller wrestler's leg was a shaft of pain. Reiko had never felt her leg abused so fiercely, even by Dixie. She didn't know what Ana's motivation was, but the bad girl really had her in agony. And the ropes were too far to reach for a break.
Ana stood up, her leg still hooked behind Reiko's, and fell back, torturing her opponent with a painful drop toehold. Reiko screamed and alapped the mat in pain. Ana, her back to Reiko's back, reached behind her and caught her enemy's chin. The combo hold put pressure on Reiko's body in two ways. The Japanese girl was the perfect picture of a heroine in torture.
And just as bad as the physical pain to Reiko was the knowledge that, somewhere in the stands, Toshiro was watching her getting beaten.
Increasing and releasing the pressure at odd intervals, Anesthesia kept Reiko in torment. She didn't bother challenging the girl to give. There was too much pleasure to be had from making the good girl groan.
Finally, Ana decided she'd had too much fun. There were, after all, two more falls (well, probably just one) to go. She put pressure on Reiko's leg and neck without slacking. The torture went on, second after second, minute after minute. Reiko was giving forth muffled groans of pain, knowing she was as close to begging for mercy as she'd ever been. Ana didn't even seem to be tiring.
The villainess smiled. She knew leglocks and toeholds were among the sexiest holds for men to watch, and that she was proving her superiority to Reiko not only as a wrestler but as a male fantasy by punishing her so.
Sweat poured from Reiko's body, dampening her red bra and jean shorts. She pounded the mat with one hand. The time had come for honesty: she'd taken as much as she possibly could. She just couldn't bear any more pain. If she let Ana torture her any longer, she could kiss the next fall goodbye.
With great regret, Reiko Hinomoto tapped out.
There was a moan of disappointment from her supporters in the crowd, but a lusty cheer from those who favored Anesthesia. Ana felt a surge of pleasure. She sighed, gave the leg and neck a final tug, and then released Reiko, springing to her feet. As a finishing touch, she kicked Reiko in the ribs again. The wrestling heroine yelped and curled into a protective ball.
Torture, thought Ana, as she managed a hip-swinging walk back to her corner. It was such a turn-on.
Reiko inhaled and exhaled evenly, rebuilding her strength, fortifying her chi, her fighting spirit. Her ribs hurt like fire where Ana had kicked them. But she was determined not to let her foe see any more pain than she could manage. In another second, Reiko leapt to her feet, faced the crowd, and pumped her fist in the air.
The audience cheered. Reiko gave them a sweaty smile. She knew that somewhere out there, Toshiro was taking in the show. And the show hadn't ended yet. She went back to her corner, walking as calmly as she could.
Anesthesia had put her through hell in the first round.
But Reiko had a hell of a lot to show her, in turn.
The break between falls lasted long enough for the girls to catch their breath and drink some water from a squeeze bottle, and for the TV moguls to cram in some commercials for soup and video games. There weren't handlers to come and give the girls words of encouragement between the falls. Until the match was over, both were alone.
Reiko had time to reflect on where she was and what she was doing. Why in the hell was she in a profession in which she had to beat up on someone, or get beaten on by them, for a living? She'd almost had bones broken, and it'd only be a matter of time till that happened. More than once, she'd had to take painkillers just to get some sleep after a match, and she had a feeling this was going to be one of those nights. That is, if they even worked.
A few times, she'd had to go to the hospital for observation. The Rumble Roses organization took care of the bills for match-related injuries. They didn't want their girls out of action too long, seriously hurt, or, worst of all, apt to sue for damages. The girls all had to sign a standard disclaimer releasing the organization from blame for injuries, but a good lawyer could probably work his way around that. So Reiko hadn't had to foot her medical bills, which was one plus in her favor.
She looked across the ring at Anesthesia. Though she'd never heard about it, she wouldn't be surprised to learn that Ana had to go to the doctor after some of their matches. It was part of the game.
A game that could hardly be called traditionally feminine.
So, why? Why, why, why?
Because, she told herself. Because your mother was Kamikaze Rose, one of the greatest wrestlers of Japan. Because she died here, 10 years ago, and you still don't know why. Because your sister Fujiko came here to look for an answer to that, and was lost herself. Because you made a promise to your mother to become the greatest wrestler of all.
Because there was a man out there that maybe you had an outside chance of loving, and because there was a woman sitting across from you who had hurt you, and deserved payback.
Those were the reasons why. And they were damned good reasons.
Anesthesia was giving her one of her cobra looks. That didn't bother Reiko anymore. She knew what the woman had to offer, and what she had to overcome. This fall, Reiko had to win. She also had to take the next one to get the victory. That bitch in the purple bikini probably thought she could walk over Reiko in the next round.
Well, no freaking way.
Oddly, Reiko thought of an old sports manga her mom had once read to her, Joe of Tomorrow. It was about a boxer, Joe Tabuchi, who rose from the slums to become a champion boxer. The Rocky of Japanese comics. She remembered his battles with Rikiishi Tooru, his hated rival, and how Mom had told her even professional boxers were said to have cried when Joe lost. But Joe had lost valiantly.
She remembered that, if she told the story, she'd be sure Joe won in the end. He was the hero. He deserved to win.
So did she.
Reiko put aside her water bottle and bounced several times in her corner. The crowd began to catch her rhythm, began to chant her name. She smiled, turned around, mounted the turnbuckle and waved to them. The chant became louder: REI-KO, REI-KO, REI-KO...
Match that, Miss Dark Nightingale.
She jumped up, did a spin in the air, and came down on her bare feet in the ring at just about the time the bell rang.
Anesthesia came out of her corner, seeming to uncoil into action. She was ready to play hellcat again, starting to circle Reiko as both prepared for tie-up. "By the time I'm done, you will think the last fall was sheer pleasure, weakling," said Ana.
"By the time I'm done, this fall will be sheer pleasure, Ana," said Reiko, and closed with her.
Ana threw a punch that might have knocked Reiko halfway across the ring if it had landed. Reiko had other scenarios in mind. She dropped and went into a modified baseball slide, which made Ana blink in confusion. She'd never seen that move before. Even less had she seen the one that ensued: Reiko jumped up, both arms held straight up, both hands fisted, slamming hard into Anesthesia's jaw in a double uppercut.
As the saying went, it rocked Ana's world.
Reiko bore in hard, slamming punches and knees into Ana's gut, raising her head up sharply to catch her foe under the chin again, ducking another blow and catching Ana's arm as she swung, sliding underneath it to slam Ana against the turnbuckle chest-first, and then doing a handstand behind her, scissoring her head, and flipping over to slam her opponent to the mat.
The crowd was on its feet. Reiko was back in town.
In a trice, Reiko scissored Ana's right arm, grabbed her foe's wrist with both hands, and wrenched it as hard as she could, pushing her feet against Ana's neck and armpit to apply a painful arm stretch. The villainess was tough. She held back her groans for about thirty seconds, until she couldn't resist any longer and let out a moan that rivaled anything Reiko had given before.
Anesthesia started trying to rise from the mat, trying to reach Reiko with her other hand, grinding her teeth in pain. "I...will...get...you...for...this," she grated. "I...will...murder...you..."
"Only if you can do it with one arm," said Reiko, lightly, and twisted harder. Ana closed her eyes and cried out in pain.
Still, Reiko knew she couldn't keep her foe down for long. Time for a new tactic. She kept her hold on Ana's right arm, got behind her, nabbed the other arm, and stuck both feet against Ana's back. Then she hauled backwards, subjecting Ana to the toughest surfboard hold she'd ever known.
The crowd's roar of acclaim was so loud that, if Reiko hadn't been as close as she was, she wouldn't have heard Ana's scream of pain.
It wasn't easy maintaining the hold. Anesthesia was strong, and Reiko was anything but fresh. It was too early in the fall for Reiko to have a great deal of hope that this would put her foe away. But weaken her? Yes, very definitely.
Ana was on her feet, but unable to free herself. The Japanese girl was threatening to yank both her arms out of their sockets. "Let...me...GO!", she howled.
"Be glad to," said Reiko. "Just say the magic words."
Anesthesia said two words.
"Wrong," said Reiko, and pulled back on her arms again. Ana howled in pain.
The big screen on one wall of the arena showed a huge image of Anesthesia that was anything but encouraging to her fans. The bad girl looked as though she was being stretched on the rack. Her eyes were closed, her mouth was open, and she was shaking her head in agony. Reiko's fans kept up their name-chant, drowning out Ana's smaller cheering section. If Ana had to take much more of this, no one doubted that she'd have to submit.
But Anesthesia was determined.
She knew the face of the woman she would have to answer to if she lost. She also had reserves of strength all her own, a desperate desire to triumph, and an even stronger one to see Reiko in pain and defeat. Damned if she'd give to this little witch in the red two-piece. Not tonight. Not when there was so much riding on her win.
Anesthesia took a deep breath, then grunted in effort as she pushed off the tips of her toes, backflipped, dislodged Reiko's feet from her back as she landed behind her, and freed her wrists from the girl's grip. Reiko rolled up, got to her feet in an instant, and faced Ana in a defensive stance.
"Not that easy," snapped Ana, and launched a vicious savate kick at her foe.
Reiko caught it on her arm, and stepped back. Anesthesia launched a barrage of kicks, driving her foe before her like a field mouse before a combine. None of them made the contact she wanted, but she aimed to back Reiko into a corner. There she could, and would, have her way with the short bitch.
And what a way she would have with her.
The smaller girl did avoid the corner trap, just barely, sliding away on the ropes to the left of it. But the action put her within range of Anesthesia once again. The villainess yelled out a karate cry, lashed out with a scissoring double-kick, and slammed Reiko full in the face with her bare foot.
Reiko sagged to the mat, on her knees, putting a hand to her head where she'd taken the kick.
Within a second, she was reeling back against the ropes from Ana's powerful roundhouse blow.
The crowd of Reiko supporters groaned in anguish as their heroine took a knee to the breadbasket, a heel-palm strike to the chin, and a backwards flip to the mat. Anesthesia's vital energies were flowing again. Now, things were once more as they should be. It was time to crush the little vixen once and for all.
With Reiko lying on the mat, Ana slipped both of her long, luxurious brown legs about her head, locked her ankles together, and began to squeeze. Reiko gasped in growing pain and—yes, she had to admit it—fear. Anesthesia's head scissors was so formidable that she'd made male pro wrestlers give to it in practice matches.
Ana grasped the ropes for further leverage and bore down hard, panting but smiling. She'd pop the little witch's brains out like toothpaste. The girl wouldn't be able to get off the mat on her own. Or perhaps ever. That was a cheering thought. The woman's strong, sinewy legs squeezed Reiko's head like a coconut caught between two steel I-beams.
Reiko's body flopped, desperately. The woman was threatening to squeeze her into unconsciousness. If she didn't get out...
No. That just was not going to happen. That would NOT HAPPEN.
Flashes of white were swarming into Reiko's vision as she gathered her strength. There was a counter-hold for every hold, some that you knew, some that you made up on the spot. She had a feeling that the next move was going to be a combination of both.
Ana was still holding onto the ropes. That gave her more leverage. But it had to be countered. It had to be disregarded. Reiko began to turn...to turn...
The villainess snarled and put Reiko's back to the mat again. But the maneuver gave Reiko an instant of respite. She set herself again and went into the turn. Ana's body shook with effort. She was bearing down as hard as possible, making Reiko's face beet-red.
The younger girl thought of Joe of Tomorrow, and of her sister, and, finally, of her mother. She turned...and turned...and turned...
...and, with one final turn...
...she loosened one of Ana's hands from the ropes, turned her opponent over, and wrenched her head from between the woman's legs, swearing later that she could hear an audible "pop".
She needed time to recover. She needed time to catch her breath, to let the blood start flowing normally into her head. She didn't dare take it.
With a wrench of supreme strength, Reiko Hinomoto pulled Anesthesia away from the ropes, tucked her foe's bare legs under her armpits, straddled her body, and put her in a painful Boston crab.
Even without the big-screen view of her face and body, the crowd could have sensed the effort Reiko was putting into the hold. She bent backward against Ana's strength and resistance, against her foe's lust for vengeance, against her determination not to give. She applied the hold as hard as she ever had, setting her own weight to put the hold at back-breaking intensity. Anesthesia was groaning, then howling in pain, then pounding the mat. It was nothing compared to the sound of the blood pounding through Reiko's temples.
The woman was trying to kick out of the hold. Reiko wouldn't let her. She just wouldn't.
Seconds passed, turned into minutes, with Reiko holding her ground like Horatio at the bridge. Anesthesia couldn't reach the ropes for a break. She could only hope to hold out until Reiko's strength failed.
But it wasn't failing.
And her back felt like it was about to break.
Somehow, from somewhere, Reiko was pulling in reserves of strength enough to increase the pressure. And Ana came to the same conclusion Reiko had, in the last fall: if she took much more of this, she was going to lose the next fall as well.
Ana bit her lips against the shame, reached out her hand, faltered twice, and, on the third time, performed the hardest task of her life thus far.
She tapped out.
Reiko didn't know she had done so until the bell sounded, signaling the end of the fall. She looked dumbfounded at the crowd, finally registering their cheers for her, and then released Ana's legs. They hit the mat with a double thud. As quickly as possible, Reiko moved away from her fallen foe, remembering the kick she'd taken after the last fall. She made her way to her corner, slumped against it, draped her arms over the corner ropes, and wheezed.
Anesthesia had taken the pain this time around. She was still on the mat, still groaning, still rubbing her sore back. But she was also reaching out to raise herself on the ring ropes, and to get to her own corner.
Reiko sighed. She settled back against the turnbuckle, allowing herself the next five minutes to bask in the crowd's cheers, to listen to her name being chanted, to recover her breath and strength as best she could, and to prepare for the final fall.
If anything could prepare her for that.
In a dressing room elsewhere in the arena, a woman in a red costume and mask limbered up and prepared to intervene. Anesthesia was endangering Reiko too much for her liking. The wrestler known as Evil Rose had, for her own reasons, intervened before to save the girl, then vanished into the arena before Reiko could question her.
The young one needed help. Evil Rose would give it to her, again.
That was the last thought she had before a powerful blow to the back of her neck rendered her unconscious.
And the last things she heard were words from an assailant she never saw.
"Not this time, my pretty. Not this time."
Dixie Clemets didn't sit in the front row of the arena, by a long shot. She was somewhere in the middle, in civvies, out of makeup and with her hair pinned up under a hat. It wasn't a cowboy hat, either. Makoto, the Judo Babe, was sitting beside her, also in street clothes. There they were, in the midst of a brace of wrestling fans, and nobody knew them.
That was fine by Dixie. The idea was not to be known to them, so they could watch Reiko's match in peace, and not to be seen by Reiko, for fear of being a distraction. The camera guys who did shots of the crowd knew in advance where the Roses would be sitting when they watched a match, and kept their lenses away from them.
"My Lord," said Dixie, almost reverently. "That little gal has got spunk."
"I fear for her, Dixie," said Makoto, quietly.
"It's just another match, 'Koto," Dixie said. "Leastways, I hope it is."
"Is that why you've been praying?"
Dixie looked at her. "Didn't know I was so obvious."
Makoto had a tense look. "I saw you with your eyes closed and your head bent. There is nothing to be ashamed of, Dixie. I, too, have been praying. To Lord Buddha, to watch over Reiko. Especially in this fall."
"Well, I'll stick with my God for this one," Dixie said. "No disrespect, I just like doing business with a familiar firm."
"I understand." Makoto put her hand on Dixie's. "It is like that movie you took me to. The American one, remember? Cinderella Man?"
"I could do without that comparison, 'Koto." Cinderella Man had been one of the best movies Dixie had ever seen, about the 1930's boxer, James J. Braddock. But the final match of the movie had been against Max Baer, who had killed two men in the ring and might well have done the same to Braddock. There had been scenes of people praying for him, too. It was over 70 years since then. Dixie hoped the good Lord was still listening just as hard.
"Ana has never been so vicious," Makoto said. "Rough, yes, but not so evil." She paused. "This is not just another match, is it?"
Dixie breathed, deeply, before she answered. "No, 'Koto. No, it isn't."
"I will pray harder. Dixie?"
"May I ask a favor?"
"Please let me keep my hand upon yours. It eases my nerves. A bit."
"Sugar," said Dixie, "keep it there for the whole fall. I know how you feel."
The two of them looked on, and waited for the third fall to begin.
Anesthesia looked across the ring at Reiko Hinomoto. Never before had she wanted to make a girl suffer so much pain.
The last fall should have been hers. She should have had the little slut screaming for quarter, writhing in her grasp. Instead, Reiko had brought the pain to her, and, despite Ana's comeback, had made her submit. Had humbled her.
Had made her tap out.
This was a sin that could not be forgiven. Nor would her mistress of the shadows forgive her for it. The only way to cover it would be to crush Reiko in this fall. Not only to make her submit, not only to humiliate her, but to give the marks in the stands a show they would never forget. A show Ana's shadowy superior would never forget.
One which would give Anesthesia...satisfaction.
The pain of the last fall was still with her, but fading. It could be disregarded. Reiko was surely no better off than she, and that last maneuver must have taken much from her. This time, she would be prey for the Dark Nightingale.
For the first time since the end of the second fall, Anesthesia ventured a wicked smile.
Reiko had never been much into the tradition of ancestor worship. But she always believed her mother was looking down upon her in her fights, giving her strength and encouragement, even when she didn't win. You could not win every battle, but as long as you fought with courage, with your heart, you were honored.
Right now, she needed her mother's blessing as never before. Anesthesia wasn't just out to win the match, she was out to do some real damage. There were many dirty things that could happen to a girl in the ring, things the controllers either missed or let slide. Sometimes there were accidents, and sometimes there were "accidents". But the danger, despite what the marks thought, was often very, very real.
There was the case of Plum Mariko, a pretty young wrestler who had been pile-drivered into the mat one time, hit in just the wrong way, and died. That really happened, and it was one of the cases cited by the Roses' trainers to make sure they knew what the risks were, and to know how to handle themselves.
Usually, the women knew there was a mark they couldn't go past. Reiko wasn't sure that Anesthesia knew there was a mark, anymore.
Mom, if you're listening, Reiko began, in her mind. Then she checked herself, and thought, But I know you are. Watch over me as never before. Arigato.
She forced herself to look at Anesthesia. The witch was smiling. Well, let her smile. Reiko would wipe that from her face, with a vengeance.
But she knew that she probably wouldn't have much opportunity for smiling in this fall, either.
Reiko pushed herself up from the corner ropes, bounced a couple of times to get the kinks out, disregarded the aches in her body, and pumped a fist in the air once again. The crowd roared. She smiled. Was that what her mother felt like, in a good match?
The bell sounded.
Reiko's expression hardened as she went into a crouch and faced her enemy. Time to go to work.
The woman in the violet bikini and the girl in the red two-piece circled each other on bare feet. The tension between the two of them was almost tangible, both to themselves and those who watched. The commentators in the television booth tried to fill the silences with inane babble, but even the viewers could hear the concern in their voices.
Who would be the first to strike? Who would be the first to fall?
Reiko had it in her mind to be the first to act. But before she could, a brown hand slashed out at her, almost faster than she thought humanly possible. There were nails on the end of it, nails which were painted a shade of violet to match a bathing suit.
Nails which slashed across Reiko's eyes.
The Japanese girl had time enough to cry out and slap a hand to her eyes before a hard bare foot came up and slammed against the side of her head. She went down like a sack of wheat, one arm draped over the bottom rope.
Get up, Reiko. Get UP...
Anesthesia's bare foot stamped down, pounding Reiko over and over again. The heroine didn't hold back her grunts of pain, couldn't if she'd wanted to. The crowd was yelling in outrage, but there wasn't a thing they could do. And Ana knew it.
Her sadism was as beautiful as she was.
Ana pulled up Reiko and slammed her against the turnbuckles, face-first. "Does that hurt, dearest?", she cooed. "Well, don't worry. It'll soon feel good by comparison."
Reiko tried to rally her faculties, but in another instant, Ana smashed her knee into her kidney. It made her gasp in pain, her eyes opening wide in shock. The agony paralyzed her. Ana backflipped Reiko to the mat and body-splashed across her foe's back. Then she got up, took hold of Reiko's bare legs, bent them at the knees, criss-crossed them at the ankles, sat on them, and pushed down hard on Reiko's bare feet.
Ana felt as though she was in heaven.
Reiko had to moan and groan in pain. The villainess was putting all her weight on her victim's sexy legs to cause her as much torture as possible. To that, she added the pain of a foot twist. Reiko sobbed and pounded the mat.
"Still think you can bear the pain, little girl?", sneered Ana as she tortured Reiko's toes. "I don't know about you, but I'm loving it!"
In tears, Reiko hammered the mat. Ana was putting her through supreme pain. She had to hold out, though. She just...had to...
But there would be a point at which she couldn't.
The bigger girl raised Reiko, fell to her back, and put her opponent in a ceiling hold, pulling back on her arms and making Reiko scream. Ana's cruelty was a turn-on to the males in the audience, and to herself. After the match, she would experience ecstacy with her shadow mistress. That would be the only pleasure that could eclipse this one.
Smiling, her eyes closed, she released Reiko's arms and let her enemy slam down hard to the mat.
Anesthesia took her time about getting up. After all, Reiko wasn't rising. She barely seemed to be breathing. If she'd knocked her out, so much the better. She could probably get in a lot more damage before Reiko's condition was noticed.
She rose fully to her feet, bending closer, knowing that once she contacted Reiko she'd know what hold to finish her off with.
That was when a powerful barefoot kick smashed into her jaw and sent her back down to the mat.
The crowd roared in triumph.
Reiko, on her feet, said, "Thanks for the rest. I really needed it," leaped up, and landed with both knees on Ana's bare stomach. The villainess's head came up as her breath whooshed out, and Reiko got her with a double-handed blow to the face. Then she stood up, pulling Ana up by her hair, landed three short punches to the woman's face, and finally smashed her with a roundhouse kick that sent her back down again.
The tide had turned again, and the crowd was either chanting "REI-KO, REI-KO, REI-KO," or just hollering, "Go, go, go, go." But the brown-haired girl knew she had a long ways to go yet.
She did a guillotine leg-drop across Ana's throat, stretched out one of her foe's arms, held it on the mat with both her hands, jumped up, and knee-dropped to Ana's bicep. The villainess screamed in pain, slapping the mat with her free arm. Reiko elbowed her as hard as she could in the side of the head. It made her elbow hurt, but she figured Ana was hurting more.
Something had to be done to Ana's powerful legs, which were still a threat. Reiko grabbed her foe's left leg, turned her face down to the mat, and sat down on her opponent's rear, pulling the leg back in a painful half-crab. Anesthesia was howling in pain, slapping the mat over and over again. Reiko was hurting many of the same muscles that she'd worked on with the Boston crab that won the second fall. She didn't think she could win with this hold, but anything that put more pain in her opponent's body was all right by her.
Reiko kept her head up to keep it out of reach of Ana's questing arms, and out of range of a backwards head-butt. Ana was kicking the mat with her free bare foot, in agony. Reiko didn't dare taunt her. Anything that would arouse her foe's fighting spirit would be a mistake. The plan was just to punish Ana so hard that she'd come around to the idea of surrender by herself.
Unlike Ana, Reiko didn't derive physical pleasure from hurting her opponents. But she was experiencing a sense of guarded triumph. Quickly, she fought that down. This match was a long ways from over.
"You little Japanese bitch!" howled Anesthesia.
"Oh, great," sighed Reiko. "Now we're getting ethnic with it." She put more pressure on Ana's leg and listened to her scream.
Anesthesia was hurting, almost as much as she had when she had lost the second fall. That shame was very fresh in her mind. She would not lose her pride, her dignity, to this undersized little fool. She absolutely refused to let that happen.
With a scream of effort, Ana put all her strength into her leg muscles, flexed hard, and freed it from Reiko's grasp.
Then she reached behind her, grabbed Reiko by the hair, smashed her face-first to the mat, got on top of her, and began tatooing the canvas with Reiko's face over and over again.
By about the fifth impact, Reiko said, "That's enough of that," and head-butted Ana under the chin. The bad girl fell back. Reiko found her feet again and tried to put Ana in a stepover toehold, but the villainess kicked her away. Backing off, Reiko gave herself some space and recovery time. She needed to gather some energy for the next assault.
The problem was, that would allow Anesthesia some respite, too.
As if on cue, both women dashed at each other and each lashed out with a kick, both of which connected. The girls reeled back against the ropes for a moment, both of them hurt. Then they closed again, grappling, slugging, kneeing, punishing. Ana lashed out with her nails, scratching Reiko's cheek. The heroine answered with a punch that rocked Ana severely. Both were pushing their bodies to extremes, fighting off fatigue as well as each other. They were so sweaty it was almost difficult to keep a hold on. But somehow, they managed.
Both were determined not to give up. It became a question of endurance.
If there had been a time limit, they would have exceeded it long before. Both girls' ability to defend was crumbling. They wearily took blows and delivered them, driven on by a half-conscious desire to be the victor. Or at least the survivor.
Finally, Anesthesia picked up Reiko bodily, pinning her arms to her sides, and crushed her in a powerful bear hug. Reiko moaned in pain, kicking her legs, unable to escape Ana's powerful arms. She felt as though she was being squeezed in the world's most powerful vise. For an instant, she remebered an old Popeye cartoon she had seen as a child. In that one, Bluto had Popeye in just such a hold, and crushed him till the sailor's head turned symbolically into a tomato. At that moment, Reiko knew how he felt.
After over two minutes of that, Ana hoisted her foe up, stretched out a knee, and dropped Reiko back-first over it. The girl's scream of pain was nothing to the outcry from the crowd.
Anesthesia was back on top again, and she intended to stay there.
She visited more leg torture upon Reiko, putting her foe's lovely legs in a figure-four and applying nearly enough pressure to break them. Reiko writhed in pain, arching her back, her eyes closed and shedding tears. She strove to turn over, to reverse the hold, but couldn't manage it. Ana had her trapped.
The villainess sent further surges of pressure into the hold, making Reiko scream with each one. Anesthesia felt a familiar rush of triumph, the same one she'd always felt when she won her matches. Soon, the little wench would be nothing more than a memory. She wouldn't even be able to walk, much less wrestle.
The crowd was crying Reiko's name in desperation now. Some were hoping for a comeback, some were hoping that she'd quit before her legs could be permanently damaged. Some were just hoping. Nobody could do much of anything else.
Reiko was getting close to her personal nadir. Her strength and spirit were failing. She was praying for surcease, for relief from the pain, and knew there was only way she could do that. Of course she could submit this one. There would be other matches down the line. One win, one loss, didn't matter that much in the big picture.
But this one was such a match. Such a big, big match.
Still, she had to make a choice. It seemed obvious. She opened her eyes and her mouth.
"Ana," she said, haltingly. "I—"
The villainess sent another surge of pressure into her legs. "Yes?"
Reiko howled again in pain, arched her back, and looked upside down into the crowd.
Somehow, a sign there caught her attention. Even though she had to make it out from an odd position.
She knew what it said. It was yellow with black lettering, and someone was holding it up for her to see.
GO REIKO GO!
Her senses swam for a long moment. Then they came back into focus. Anesthesia was pressuring her legs again. Somehow, she gritted her teeth and kept from crying out.
"Yes?" said Ana. "Is there something you had to say to me?"
Reiko waited for a space between the surges of pressure, then flexed her leg muscles with all her power, found energy to turn her body over, and, beyond all possible belief, reversed the hold.
"...I'm going to beat you!"
Anesthesia cried out in surprise before she could cry out in pain. She should have been able to escape, and, if she hadn't been so overconfident as to not consider Reiko's comeback, she might have. But the fiery Japanese girl reached back and caught her foe under the chin, while still maintaining the painful reverse figure-four on Ana's legs. Her fingers dug in under Ana's jaw. She was tired, she was hurt. But she blasted well wasn't going to let go.
Ana tried to loosen Reiko's grip, but the heroine dug in harder, levered the bad woman's legs back more forcefully. A whimper of pain came from her lips, rather than the scream she would rather have had. She just couldn't be in this position. She just couldn't!
Reiko went as Zen as possible in her mind. The task had to be done. She could not falter. She could not be weak. Even though her body might be screaming at her that she was reaching overload, her mind must overrule that. She thought of Toshiro, and took strength from that.
And one more thing came into mind.
She could have sworn it came unbidden, but whether it did or not, it was there.
She saw, within her mind's eye, her mother. Kamikaze Rose. And within her mind's ear, she heard a familiar voice from her childhood, saying something she had never heard her mother say before:
"Hold fast to your foe, my daughter. You have the power of triumph within your heart. The power which blooms like the rose. Release the strength within you...and victory shall be yours!"
Reiko's mouth hung open for a long moment. Then, with a cry of effort and determination, she pulled back as hard as she could with her arms, as forcefully as she could with her legs, and felt a new power within her.
She couldn't tell, subjectively, how long the interval lasted. Later, looking back on videos, she found that it was much shorter than it seemed. But one thing was clear.
Anesthesia had tapped out, and, when Reiko didn't perceive that, she finally shouted, "I submit! I SUBMIT!"
That finally got through to her.
Reiko flopped off of her opponent, sighing, fighting for relief. She had to drag herself up the ropes, and that felt like climbing to the top of Mount Fuji. There were roars around her, people calling her name, sound effects rockets going off, and the PA system playing her theme, "Look At the Sky". None of that mattered a lot, just then.
She said, "Thank you, Mom," and slumped to her knees.
Reiko wasn't left alone for long. The guards had a tough time keeping the crowd from mobbing the ring in congratulations. The officials and the Rumble Roses girls who were in costume stormed the ring, grabbed Reiko, and lifted her hand in victory. Ana was helped out by a few guards, and the way the crowd was booing her, they figured that she'd need protection all the way to the dressing room.
Dixie and Makoto fought their way, sometimes literally, through the crowd, showing their ID's to the guards to get by. Aisha, Aigle, and Miss Spencer were supporting Reiko, who was still looking winded, but satisfied. This would have been a spectacle worthy of a title match, and it was only a regular one. Only nobody could ever think of it as "regular".
Dixie broke through the press to reach Reiko. "Reiko, honey!" she exulted. "Y'all did it! You little, beautiful piece of Japanese honeycomb, you beat her!"
"Yankee Rose, it's you!" Reiko exclaimed, reaching out for her.
"Didn't I tell you never to call me that, darlin'?" Dixie smiled. "That may be a good song, but not even my friends call me a Yankee! And you're my friend. Believe it." She hugged the weary girl, and Reiko found the strength to hug her back.
Makoto grasped Reiko's hand and shook it while she and Dixie were still in the hug. "Oh, Reiko-chan, I thought you were...well, never mind what I thought. Just thank Lord Buddha that you survived. That you won."
Reiko sighed, and thought of a recent vision.
"Well, yeah," she said. "Him, and one other."
As soon as she could, Anesthesia made her way to the place where she would have communed with the mistress of the shadow. She leaned against a bench and sought for words to say, in the semi-darkness.
"I did my best for you, mistress," she said. "It was not my fault that she slipped through my grasp. There will be other battles. There will be other times."
"Mistress? Where are you? Don't leave me alone! Don't leave me!"
She cried out in the darkness and fell to her knees, sobbing.
In another room, a woman in a red devil costume rubbed the back of her head and studied a large TV screen image. Apparently Reiko hadn't done so bad for herself, after all. That was a relief.
More troubling was what had happened to herself, that night. An unknown assailant, an unseen blow. Danger from a sector of which she had been unaware.
Evil Rose knew that, to the others, she was a mystery. But a greater mystery, a potentially more deadly one, had shown its hand. That, she thought, was a very dangerous thing.
For the mystery, that is, whenever she caught up with it.
The paramedics and a doctor had looked over Reiko, found her basically okay, prescribed staying off her feet for a little while, along with giving her a few painkillers, and left her alone. She sighed, getting ready to dress and catch a cab home.
A knock came on the dressing room door. The special kind of knock that Dixie used. Wearily, Reiko sat back on the bench, still in her robe and sweaty two-piece. "Come in," she said.
Dixie opened the door. "Somebody wanted to see you, honey." She stepped aside to let somebody else pass, and closed the door behind her.
Despite her weariness and pain, Reiko couldn't keep from jumping up from the bench. "Toshiro!" she squealed.
"Reiko-chan," he said, grinning. She ran to him and he embraced her, lifting her off the floor. The two kissed, for a very long interval.
When they broke, he hugged her again, fiercely. "Honey, if I had known it was going to be like that...if I had known..."
"Don't say it, Toshi," she said. "It's like you said. Fate, and only that."
"I'm not so sure," he said. "But I would have gone out with you whether you won or lost. Believe it. You have a heart, Reiko-chan. If you weren't a wrestler, you'd be one hell of a race car driver."
"Well, if you ever get tired of racing, maybe I can teach you to wrestle."
"Oh, I'd probably like that."
"Don't get too hopeful. But not too hopeless, either."
He held her at arms length with both hands. "I owe you a big night on the town, Reiko-chan. Anywhere you want, anything you want, on that night, it's yours."
"Great," she said. "Let me get a shower and get dressed."
"What?" He dropped his jaw. "Are you serious?"
"Don't I look serious?"
"But you...but...after tonight, after that match..."
Reiko grinned and rubbed his chin lightly with her fist. "Toshi, the day I can't wrestle a match and then have a night on the town with a cute boy, you'd better pack me off to the retirement home. You go outside. I won't be long. Promise."
"You want me to..."
He went. Smiling.