Me and him. All that ever mattered before this moment faded into oblivion; into the blurry peripherals of my mind. There was no great struggle or melee going on around us. No one was dying, there was just us.

His green eyes bore into mine, solid circles piercing the dark of the storm like a knife. Implacable and emotionless, he just stood there in front of me; whatever expression he wore was hidden under his mask, and I forgot that he was anything like a human.

He could see right through me, right through my practiced and balanced stance and the sweat and rain that I was drenched in. He knew me better than Kitana or Kenshi or anyone, simply because he had fought me.

I felt like I had known this man for the better part of my life; like he had always been there to oppose me, even though I would have laughed at anyone who told me that something like him could exist a few weeks ago.

What scared me was not the fact that he was ambiguous and unpredictable, or even the fact that he was a fighter with an insane amount of muscle memory, but that he showed no emotion, no pain, and absolutely no mercy.

I didn't know whether or not he was truly evil, or even truly monstrous. And that lack of understanding made him a most dangerous opponent.

His black leather boots slid across the floor as he balanced on his back leg, holding his left foot forward and bringing both of his fists up to shoulder-level, ready to unleash all manner of unpleasantness on me.

I simply nodded back at him, telling myself that it was okay to be scared. Fear puts you on edge, makes you focused, refines you if you let it. There was no backing away from this fight. No running, no way to cheat either.

The world doesn't teach you how to be a man, neither does combat training. A man is one who stands firm in the face of imminent death, defending what he believes in until the end.

I have always wanted to be a man, ever since my exile, I have longed for another cause to throw myself into; another fray, another challenge to face.

With nothing held back, this would be the moment that forever defined our lives, for better or for worse; we would truly be alive today, as our physical and mental limits would be tested.

We were both combat specialists of the highest order, not by virtue of inborn skill or simply for competition or ranking, but by necessity. We fought for survival, the only thing that mattered.

I raised both of my arms and curled my gnarled and bruised hands into fists, holding them in front of my chin and setting one of my feet forward, pointing my toes at him. We mirrored each other for a moment, a pair of dark silhouettes squaring off in the storm.

I moved on him first, feeling my sore and strained muscles tug back as I forced them into motion once again. The wear and tear was something awful, something I could do nothing about.

I crouched low, keeping my footing on the soaked floorboards as I rushed him. I felt the fire rage behind my eyes as I remembered the humiliating beating I had received last time we had fought. I vowed that the only way I would be beaten would be if he killed me. Anything less was superficial.

"AAHHHHH!" I roared, a low guttural scream from the pit of my stomach, as I charged him.

He didn't move, but kept his footing and composure like I wasn't even there. He didn't betray any emotion; he didn't shake, and didn't even flinch until I threw the first punch.

I came forward with a right cross; a powerful straight-punch that started just in front of my ear and extended across my entire body. I cranked my hips through the blow, turning on the balls of my right foot as m entire body weight went into the blow.

I kept my other arm up, hand balled into a fist still, and in the shape of a loose L in front of my face and throat. I had dropped my guard last fight, and still had the bruises to show it. I wouldn't make the same mistake again.

He dodged the blow with incredibly speed, crouching on his haunches like boxer; ducking and weaving out of the way as his body went low and came back up to his full height, with his counter attack following.

Before I even knew it, he threw a left hook above my outstretched arm, knowing that there was no way I could block him, and smashed a fist into my temple.

Either he had steel gauntlets on or his hand was made of wood, because that shit hurt. Hurt like he had permanently damaged something, and gave me an unsettling lack of balance.

I spun completely around from the force of the impact, retracting my right arm and bringing it back up to protect my head.

And a good thing it was instinct to guard my head, because I lost sight of him for a second when I turned. In the dark of the storm, it took me a half-second too long to register that he had jumped into the air, extended a hand like he was trying to touch the ceiling, and brought it on top of me like he was trying to hammer in a nail.

The hammer fist smacked my forearm and glanced off as he came down; hurt like a bitch, but I was still conscious.

He kicked low as he continued his offensive, cranking his hips and coming crosswise with a roundhouse aimed at my vulnerable rib cage.

I raised my left foot, holding my shin outward and pointing my toes at the floor, using my leg to stop his. The feeling of his shin hitting mine was excruciating, but it was the only way.

I am surprised I didn't feel a snap as his leg met mine with enough force to shatter most species of hardwood. Bones were hard, but there was only so much punishment they could take.

I jumped backward on my good leg as he followed up with a crosswise chop with his right hand. It almost looked like he was trying to backhand slap me, but his hand was turned to the side and would have crushed my windpipe instead of bruising my face.

Water droplets danced as his arm arced out through the blow that he had failed to land. Lightning flashed again, and lit up his aggressive stance and tensed body in the brief light.

He didn't stop or overcorrect himself, instead using the same momentum to keep turning clockwise. Halfway through the rotation, he lifted his right leg and came at me with a low back kick.

I jumped left and out of the way, letting him turn completely around.

But he didn't hesitate for a second after missing both hits. He drew his left arm across his body, pointing the back side of his elbow at me for an instant; much like a baseball player would call his shot, before leaping forward with the hardest part of his arm extended like a short spear.

I dodged left, ending up behind him. He again used this failed hit to launch another, snapping his arm straight out to fire a backfist at me. Similar to the aforementioned backhanded slap, but with a closed fist and much more dangerous.

With his arm like that of a crane carrying a wrecking ball, he rotated around to deliver his payload.

I ducked, and was left facing him for a quarter of a second before I fired a short uppercut underneath his chin.

His head rocked back at an unhealthy angle, and I seized the opportunity.

I swung my body as if to deliver a right hook, but instead of using my fist, I got much closer to him and used the front of my elbow to smack him across his exposed jaw.

He staggered, for real this time. Last time I had struck him, it had seemed like only a hindrance, but this time I could tell that he was in some sort of pain.

His eyes opened and shut, like some child incessantly flicking the switch on a pair of lights, as he tried to recover.

He used his meaty shoulder to throw a counter punch with his left hand, and I stuck out my forearm outward to deflect the blow. I could see his, their, anger rising behind the mask.

His next blow I didn't see; not until it had already connected.

He used a reverse punch, a taekwondo and karate trademark, to double me over. My left side still ached, and the short, straight-on punch to my floating ribs was disorienting and nauseating in the same instant.

He came forward next with a palm heel strike, an open handed blow that also had roots in karate, and smacked me at an upward angle right in the nose.

It was my turn to rock backward as water filled the edges of my eyes and blood ran from my damaged nostrils.

He kicked me in the solar plexus, and I dropped to my knees. Blood leaked into my open mouth, and mixed with the rainwater as I tried to keep breathing.

Or rather, get my breath back.

It felt like a dump truck was pressing on my lungs, stopping my ability to take in a breath, only making me expel my remaining air. I coughed several times, blood coming up and no air coming in.

And goddamn if it wasn't the most scared I've ever been in my life.

I watched with fascination as the mixture or saliva and gore slowly dripped from my swollen lips to the ground, some of it held together by the viscosity of my spit.

No shame. No shame. I didn't even remember what it felt like, I just remember the fight before. I remember what it is like to die.

The sky above me darkened as Ermac stepped into view. I manage to look up, holding back tears and bile, both of which threatened to burst out of my body any moment.

He looked like a giant above me, an imposing figure unfettered by the blows he had taken, standing over me as if ashamed that I had been downed so quickly.

He looked down for a long minute before he spoke.

"You came a long way to die."

The words rang in my ears, louder than the unbearable ringing that had already nearly deafened me. I felt all pain there was to feel, old and new, as it crashed over me like waves at high tide.

I shook, all of me shook. My hands and feet, the knees I had put my weight on, and everything in between.

"You fought like a man," the many voices said in a poorly synchronized monotone. Before they had spoken as one, but with the damage I had inflicted on him came disorganization and lack of coordination between the spirits in his body. A minor problem compared to my current plight.

"… and so you will die like one, Maxwell. May you spend the afterlife in heaven," they said softly. The closest thing to emotion I had ever heard out of Ermac. And it sounded oddly like respect.

But respect doesn't matter, not when you're about to die.

I couldn't die… I shouldn't die. Not here, and not because of him.

I started thinking, trying to put the swirling mass of colors and random phrases in my mind into coherent thoughts.

I tried not to think about physical pain, or agony. And in doing so, both sensations were at the forefront of my mind.

I thought back to when I had been in school, almost fifteen years ago. My teacher had explained what pain really was:

What people call pain is really a series of signals between your body and your brain, telling your brain that if you do not do something about the damage you're causing to your body, your body will suffer. So what they say is true, Max, pain is just in your head. But it isn't as forgettable as a mere thought.

Agony: extreme mental or physical suffering, very excruciating.

I bowed my head as he raised a hand high into the air, ready to bring down a final blow to the back of my head. With the strength he had, a blow to the base of my skull would kill me instantaneously, ceasing all brain function.

"No," I whispered. Another bead of blood escaped my lips as I muttered the word softly. I felt the warm stuff well up in my mouth as I coaxed my body into motion one last time. My legs lifted, my arms held me up again, and for a moment all I could think about was the look on the face of that son of a bitch.

I had fought half a dozen men and escaped with nothing but my life. I had beaten a knife-obsessed killer twice, and I had taken a beating like none I've ever received, and then climbed back up to continue the good fight.

After all that, this punk won't be the one to end me, not if I have anything to say about it.

I screamed like the wild animal that I was, loud and shrill and in desperation, as I balled my hands into fists. From being tucked into a ball on the floor, I rose up in one last act of desperation.

Then I leapt at Ermac, keeping my head bowed as if in submission. I used the crown of my skull as a weapon, smashing it in an upward thrust at Ermac's teeth.

My harder bone prevailed, and I felt something crunch as I jumped to my feet. I felt the pain, the hot and unbearable pain, but now I had something to do with it.

He took several steps backward, shaking his head before clapping his fists together and coming at me full force.

He launched a flurry of fast, wild punches in my direction. I held up my hands to guard myself, but this time I kept moving. A moving target is a hard target, I remembered.

Right! Left! Right! Hook! Uppercut! Right! Left! Left!

His arms worked like a pair of pistons on overdrive as he used his fists like most people use a machine gun; as many times as physics would allow, and hoping one would eventually hit me.

The blows came faster than I could call them out or even register how many there were. I just kept moving, kept my feet under me, and remembered what was at stake.

I danced to the left, taking two fast steps to avoid his first two punches, and ducked back to the right as he attempted and uppercut, throwing his muscular arms at me like his life depended on it.

I looked around frantically as he spun full circle with a high hook kick, spinning on one foot and trying to take my head off with the heel of the other. His boots slid a half inch the wrong direction as he nearly fell. And I kept moving, watching my step as he pursued my without abandon or control.

I reversed direction again, avoiding a sharp left hook. I felt the sleeve of his thick jacket graze my hair as it passed harmlessly over my head. With the quick twist of his body, he was now turned completely around.

I fired a short punch of my own, nailing him in the small of his back; that area where there was not a shred of bone or cartilage to shield his kidneys. I heard a dozen voices yelp in surprise as the hit registered.

Ermac jolted and leaned backward in pain, still facing away from me.

And I heard an exasperated grunt from somewhere in front of me as he turned.

It took a second to realize that it was Ermac. The stoic, implacable man was growling in exasperation and heated fury as he tried to kill me with his bare hands.

I didn't need to see his face to know that he was more pissed now that he had ever been before. His green eyes narrowed at me, hating me more than anything.

The sucker moved very fast, and it was clear that the hypothetical gloves had officially come off. He lunged forward and grabbed me by my shirt and sucked me towards him with his bulky arm.

I felt the slick, rough leather of one of his gloves brush against my throat as he grabbed my collar, holding my shirtfront with a death grip.

His left hand closed like a bear trap, securing me in place, while his right swung wildly.

He threw a haymaker punch in a long, wide arc. The image didn't register until he had already almost hit me. The back half of my forearm stopped the hit mere inches from my jawline.

He swung again, growling in several distinct tones and languages as he went for the same wild punch.

I stopped it again with the blade of my lower arm, and we both screamed as our limps ached from the ordeal.

I had to get out of here. I'm dead if I don't keep moving.

I used my right hand to grab the base of his wrist, giving a short tug to loosen up the hold he had on me. His wrist, the weakest part in anyone's body, didn't have the strength to hold against my entire arm, and his fingers slipped free.

I actually didn't expect him to lose his grip entirely. The Israeli term was plucking, and was meant to break a stranglehold, but at the same time to keep ahold of the attacker's hand so you can throw him to the ground.

But I had something even better in mind.

I suddenly shot forward, coming in fast and low, like a football player trying to take someone out at the legs.

I tucked everything, head and shoulders, in close as I went under his outstretched arm, but leaving my elbow out as I passed under his reach.

My elbow smashed into his armpit as I passed, clipping his vulnerable ribs and disabling his entire right arm in one blow.

He… they screamed as they felt the pain.

I completely walked past the man, leaving him doubled over and clutching his ribs with his free arm.

Ermac slowly turned and approached me, putting one foot in front of the other with an unusual amount effort. He had never felt pain, not like this. And for the first time ever, he appeared desperate and visibly shaken.

I lifted up a leg and turned it clockwise as just above waist-level. The roundhouse blow struck his side and made him buckle. His ribs were becoming more and more pliable by the minute.

He swung overhanded again and I simply stepped back and let the punch hit exactly nothing before hammering him in the exact same side a third time, again with an elbow. I felt another pop as I shattered one of his floating ribs.

The chorus of voices screamed, howled like a wounded animal from inside of him.

I stepped forward with my right foot and kicked off, propelling my entire body as high as my legs could launch me. I spun in the air and let my right arm form a C as I used the momentum of the circular motion to bring a powerful blow onto Ermac's head.

The punch was directed downward, knuckles going straight towards the floor at a 45 degree angle. Only instead of the floor, my hand pulverized Ermac's nose and cheek.

I felt the loose cartilage of his nose bend and crunch under the pressure, and his cheek dented inward as the bone supporting his jaw was broken.

I screamed again, in agony and in triumph. Everything hurt so much, yet it felt so good.

Ermac stumbled about like a drunken sailor before collapsing in a heap on the floor. His mask was stained in a deep, sickly red that told me all I needed to know.

I again fell to my knees. Ouch, that stings too.

Legs, arms, ribs, feet, and everything in between… all of it felt like jello. And they were just as keen to move when I asked them to as the inanimate object. So I sank to the floor, feeling the warm, soaked wood under me as I laid down.

God, it felt like forever since I just stopped moving, stopped fighting. Just let things run their course for once, just sit back and let it be.

I rolled over onto my good side and watched as a bloodied Scorpion picked up Ermac on his way out the door. Where he was running I didn't know, but he, Mileena, and Kano were certainly running for their lives. They all charged at a ferocious pace in the direction of the rear of the stage, and I took that as the sure sign that the battle was over.

I saw Raiden and Sonya in hot pursuit, the former fully charged with electricity stemming from both hands, and the latter with only her bare fists.

Stryker followed a few seconds later, moving towards one end of the building. Everything was getting blurry, blacking out. The figures in front of me faded to shadows, and the shadows too faded until they were indistinguishable from the black sky above.

I knew that these people were right in front of me, but they sounded like they were a million miles away.

And there I lay, bleeding from the mouth, nose, and probably from several organs internally. My arms and legs hurt from blocking and striking for so long. They felt broken, like they would never be healed, and that the pain would never go away. A headache threatened to crack my skull in two, and an ache of similar proportions plagued my stomach.

But you know what? We had won, and all the rest could wait. The asskicking that just went down was the only thing that mattered right now. Not the past, not the future, just the moment and what we had done with it.

Now on one on Earth would have to fight a war. We paid for their freedom, and it was a small price compared to what could have been.

My vision came back into focus for a brief second as a four-armed hulk ran across my field of view, shaking the ground as he retreated from a howling Liu Kang.

Didn't know. Didn't care.

Earth was safe, and those freaks were gone. And everything else could wait.

I felt a hand on my shoulder. Soft, strong little fingers. I leaned my head against the outstretched arm as unconsciousness from the physical exertion overtook me.

I felt another hand on my forehead, warm and comforting. Someone spoke to me, but I couldn't hear them. Someone was cradling me, and it felt so good to be held.

Then everything went dark.

Hey everyone! The fight is almost over, but there is more yet to come. Thank you for reading and reviewing, and lemme know what you think of the latest. Thanks! Review and enjoy!