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CHAPTER 5: AN UNEXPECTED WAIT

Gregor stared in awe at this bulky boy who claimed to be called Luke.

"Luke?" Gregor literally echoed the name the boy had donned himself. "Didn't I know you? Yes...years ago..."

Luke put on a confused expression, followed by perplexed curiousity. "No, I do not seem to recall you...may I have your name?"

"Gregor." Came the clear reply.

And all of a sudden, Luke burst out, "Gregor? I knew someone in...middle school...called Gregor...and that boy," Luke empathetically paused here, resent building up in his voice as he gazed spitefully at Gregor, "was the one who beat me in the final match of the wrestling tournament." Luke paused, taking a deep breath, and ventured on, "He did not beat me. He mortified, humiliated me." And Luke abruptly turned his meandering gaze to Gregor.

"And I do believe that it was you."

Gregor gawked in disbelief at Luke. Was his grudge simply held because of a wrestling match that Gregor couldn't even recall?

Handsome face, good build...it didn't matter how much muscle Luke could build up on himself. Gregor didn't even considered the six pack that Luke probably had but that he couldn't see. Gregor couldn't imagine Luke wrestling as an amateur, much less then him advancing to the finals to attempt to defeat Gregor.

Luke seemed to contain more scholarly attributes to himself, especially with that patrician nose Luke sported and those cold, grey eyes. The tattered clothes that he adorned himself could not change the fact that Luke was more of a scholar than a fighter.

And suddenly, ever so abruptly, Gregor vaguely could evoke the ever diminishing memory...of him fighting in that particular wrestling tournament.

That stupid tournament. It hadn't meant anything to him. Nothing.

Advancing through the rounds, tossing people out of his way, driving into them with barely any of his might...even winning that measly trophy...hell, Boots accidently dropped it and it splintered into pieces! How could anyone get worked up over something as obsolete as that? It was no wonder that he didn't remember it! (Though he'd much rather remember that than remember his parents' death)

And it was then that Gregor realized that he was looking at it from the rager point of view, the accomplished and fierce fighter's point of view. He needed to look at it from the cosmic, vast point of view that encompassed the ordinary person's stubborn thoughts.

Looking at it like this, Gregor understood how infuriated Luke must have been when Gregor had deftly and swiftly interfered in Luke's shortterm dream. Anyways, Luke obviously exerted all the determination and effort he had in the preceding rounds to that. Luke was also in stark contrast to the run of the mill fighter, who wasn't an adept master at the sport.

He was obviously stronger than the rest, now that Gregor could more visibly remember it...

And something clicked in Gregor's mind.

"Fight me." Gregor urgently and involuntarily screeched at Luke. "Fight me."

"I...beg your pardon?" Luke hesitantly and confoundedly responded, staring in confusion at the proffered hand Gregor extended to him, a gesture of something Luke didn't know.

"Fight me!" Gregor even more desperately attempted to chide Luke. "Please! I need to see your skill! You can help me! You can help Ripred!"

"Help you with out?" Luke interjected insistently. "And who is Ripred?!"

"Just...,"Gregor sighed in exasperation, his sigh extravagant, it's exuberance meant to persaude Luke into helping him. "You can help!"

Gregor was blubbering like an idiot, and even though he was trying with all his might to, he couldn't stop. His jumbled mind couldn't even process the notion that he should actually explain to Luke what he meant.

It was going downhill from there. While Gregor was yakking his head off, speaking in no apparent discernable language, his mind was in turmoil. And Gregor couldn't even find the humor in Luke's surly expression, Luke beginning to get really annoyed. The kind look he'd sported quickly detoriated into an expression of sheer fury. Luke had this get the hell out of my way or I'll flatten you look, which was ironic since Gregor wasn't in his way.

Perfect. Just perfect.

Gregor wanted an ally, and he was more or less painting himself the hint of an enemy. With Luke glowering at him, and Gregor ranting, half-crazed with the Underland, it took Gregor a while to remember their initial encounter and why Gregor was even wasting his time here, instead of sprinting headlong into the Underland, running to wherever Luke was being held. He was itching for the running to be skipped just so that he could slay all those undead that didn't have the sense to stay dead.

"Excuse me!" Luke's sharp voice crescendoed, resulting in a multifarious, high pitched shriek that baraged Gregor out of his reverie. "Explain! Why do you wish to fight me? Who is Ripred, and what is the Underland?"

Glumly, Gregor lazily gazed at Luke, not knowing where he should reply with a definitive answer that explained everything, that explained who Gregor was and why he shouldn't get the hell out of Luke's way.

And it was right at that point, that a nearly inconspicious thought drove it's way into Gregor's mind, and his brain bloomed into brilliance. This was perfect! Why hadn't he thought about that before? If Luke was going to persist in finding the answers to these void statements Gregor threw at him...there was only one way for the information to be delivered to him.

"You want the information?" Gregor challenged Luke. "Fight me...and you'll get it!"

An astounded Luke quickly overcame the stunning advocation, and the ghost of a sneer played on his face. "A fight? A fight, you want? You most certainly will receive it!" And Luke, very much inclined to take the challenge, threw a wild punch that he thought he knew would trump Gregor.

Sadly, he was mistaken. Critisizing the flamboyuance of the punch with the slightest shake of his head, Gregor's cruel smirk infuriated Luke, and Gregor flicked his wrist on Luke's head, the action so quick that it seemed as if an omniscient force committed the action.

"Augh!" Luke screamed in pain, seething with rage at the plain mortification he'd received, his pride slandered. How could he have been so adeptly dealed with? Luke lunged forward once more, but Gregor took the anger in stride, forseeing Luke's rage. Gregor caught the blow and bludgeoned Luke's hand.

The pain took a split second to come, and in that minute, the look on Luke's face was irrefutably the most hilarious Gregor had ever caught a glimpse of. Gregor could have howled in laughter at Luke's sudden change in mood. "What happened?" Gregor taunted. "Is your arrogance done?"

And then the pain took over, and Luke retched over, clutching his hand as if it were his lifeline, his one desire in life. "Aaaahhh!" Luke howled in pain, and brought his face up just to face another swift kick delivered craftily and brutally by Gregor. Luke forced himself not to left himself be thrown on the ground, trying with all his might not to be humiliated again. Gritting his teeth, Luke scampered to his feet, only to desperately bat off two of Gregor's restrained blows.

The consumption of his energy being exceptionally high Luke, his reluctantly forced himself to convey to himself the damage Gregor had caused to him: bruised jaw (broken, maybe?), lots of blood, purple eye, lots of blood, bloody nose...and, mm-hm, no doubt about it: lots of blood.

Quickly taking the time to assess the damage he had dealt to Gregor, Luke found it awfully unnerving that he had dealt: no damage at all.

"Luke," Gregor growled impatiently. "Stop holding back. You have much more power to show to me." Not wanting to endure some of Luke's embellished boasting, he quickly added smugly, "Not that I wouldn't win anyhow."

The anger was triggered, the damage dealt. "You think this is funny?!" Luke viciously retorted. "YOUR ARROGANCE IS DONE!" Luke's tomato red face alerted Gregor that he had exploited Luke's weakness, and if this fight rose to become more of a hinderence than it already was, Gregor was more than ready.

Suddenly, Luke's face regained far more vividness, and he rushed at Gregor, his arms flailing, his voice defeaning. "You will suffer!" He was yelling. Well, it was more of a babble, since Gregor had no intention of listening to Luke, and Luke more or less was talking to himself.

With surprising speed, Luke assaulted Gregor, and he finally found this fight more than a nuiscance that he wished he'd never started. Luke was able to soundly connect his fist with Gregor's jaw, who in return sent the next of Luke's blows rebounding into Luke's face. Gregor slammed Luke right into a square of light, and the sudden burst of light blinded Luke for a valuable second.

Gregor took the one second to slam himself into Luke once more, sending the latter sliding across the floor, blindly groping for alleged furniture that would stop his slide. Fortunately for Gregor, there were none.

"You managed to trade one blow with me," Gregor impartially remarked, the minor pain from the punch he'd received subsiding. "But is that it?"

Luke's senses were screaming profane remarks at him for having allowed himself to skid across the floor. Breathing heavily, he roared back in contempt, "It will soon be you who is skidding across the floor!"

This remark, full of bravado, discreetly cloaked Luke's trepidation enough that Gregor could barely dissentangle it from Luke's bravery. "I'd really like to see that." Gregor sneered, some of his concentration dispersing.

Without a moment's notice, Luke rushed at Gregor again, and this time, Gregor tasted pain at Luke's fist slamming into his face, leaving the slightest trickle of blood behind it.

Not pausing even for a microsecond, Luke let out a warrior's cry and flailed his fists at Gregor, connecting with Gregor's face three times. Taken aback at first, Gregor swiftly kicked Luke away and, wrenching his fist back, plowed it right into Luke's bloody face, blood spewing out of Luke's mouth. Delivering a powerful punch to Luke's stomach, Gregor instantly was assured of his victory.

Never for a moment had Luke resigned to defeat, however, and he forced himself back up, despite it requiring the simple effort he didn't have.

"You're pretty tough, huh?" Gregor attempted a compliment, though Luke did not take it as so because of the bitterness in it. "Trained by the best," He snarled back.

"And who would the best be?"

"Myself!" Luke retorted, tackling Gregor to the ground and swiping a gnarled fist on his stomach, knocking the air out of him.

"You think you're the best?" Gregor retorted back. "I have news for you: YOU'RE NOT!" Angered at the latter's overconfidence, Gregor kicked Luke off of him and baraged him with a series of flailed fists, each and everyone of them impacting a critical part of Luke's fighting stance.

"Ready to give up?" Gregor huffed furiously. It astounded him when Luke silently shook his head no...and it angered him to the brink of insanity.

A familiar feeling overcame Gregor, the same cool, calm feeling that took over him for a second before he raged. Gregor had almost always tried to fight it off, but now he didn't even try. He coolly acknowledged it, nodding his head...and then everything went red.

...

...

When Gregor finally regained his senses, he dazedly glanced around, and was alarmed to find a battered, bruised Luke on the floor, nearly unconscious. Blood dribbled out of his nose and mouth, and the intricate cuts on his body were connected, like a map of several rivers. It was a very fitting description, considering that all the blood coming out of the cuts made them look like rivers.

Gregor only knew two living beings who would still refuse to balk and back down in such an instance. One of those beings was him, the other Ripred.

But Gregor now had to add one more person to that list: Luke.

"My god..." Gregor breathed, horrified at what he'd done to Luke and even more horrfied by Luke's pride, intermingled with terrifying determination. Was Luke going to die? Was this Gregor's cue to rush out of the funeral center and seek refuge with Ripred?

No, Gregor firmly decided. He would take whatever ramifications came to him for his grisly deed. He turned, neglecting to even wipe the blood from his face.

"Wait!" It was Luke's voice, a croak riddled with pain and anxiety. Gregor turned back to stare in amazement at Luke, who at such an extent of pain could even dare to venture to gather his voice.

"What do you want?" Gregor bitterly uttered back. "Are you going to turn me into the authorities?"

Luke gave a short laugh. "Funny, I was thinking that you would do the same to me." Seeing Gregor's bemused face, Luke quickly went on, "For bothering you and fighting you. Anyways, even if you would, I would not run, as I deserve the punishment."

"We really do think alike," Gregor was marvelling at how in sync their thoughts were, and Luke nodded in affirmative.

It was that nod that relayed the news to Gregor of what he had to do.

"Will you come with me?" Gregor heatedly prompted Luke. "Will you come with me to...to the Underland?"

Luke was full of surprises, and again he astounded Gregor by not laughing at him, but instead merely furrowed his eyebrows, and inquired, "The Underland? What is that?"

Gregor took a deep breath, desperately oppressing the urge to smack Luke across the room, battering him even more, as every minute...every little microsecond...could be the time of Luxa's death. Gregor hadn't ever been the best in math, and wasn't normally in sync with time, but right now, he could literally feel the seconds hurtling past him, calling out to him to come with them but he was unable to do so.

Could he trust Luke? '

Yes, Gregor affirmed. He'd already made this choice.

There was still a part of Gregor screaming toiled curses at him for even bringing the matter up, but Gregor didn't even calculate his foes yet, and Ripred stood no apparent chance against these deadly adversaries. They'd need all the backup they could get...and Luke was a fine candidate.

To think that Luke could fend off Gregor, the impowerable rager, and survive without any broken bones Gregor's ballistic reverie...!

It was time to concede to the undeniable truth that was empowering Gregor.

And Gregor proceded to tell Luke more than he needed to ever know.


From the moment Luke regarded Ripred, Gregor knew that everything was falling into place.

Gregor led Luke from the funeral home to his shaggy, run of the mill home, and fortunately, Luke took it all in stride, not even the tints of a gullible snicker sprawled on his face.

In fact, there wasn't any questions from Luke. Or maybe there would have been later because at the moment Luke could've been so lost in thought. But seeing Luke's pragmatic face as he gazed upon Ripred, the giant rat, surely terminated all those thoughts.

"I see you've brought a new friend." Ripred yawned haphazardly, laughing at Luke's expression.

Ignoring the comment, Gregor's mouth fell open in shock as he stared at his sullied, practically polluted house. "Polluted with rat." Gregor thought darkly, as he resentfully barked at Ripred, glowering, "What the hell was all that for? You trashed my house more than 100 of those homeless people could've done in week!"

"Oh, I'm sorry!" Ripred sardonically apologized profusely. "But maybe this house wasn't the best place to keep me, especially with these paws-" Ripred took a deliberate moment to lackadaisically glance down at his puffy paws-"and these claws being dragged all over the place. And besides, I was hungry." Ripred added, his voice taking on a serious tone.

"How so?" Gregor forcefully shot back, sure that Ripred was lying.

"Well, with all the fighting going on down in the Underland, there hasn't been as much food production, because most of the people have gone off to war. And who thinks to give the peacemaker shrimp in white cream-" Ripred had a dreamy look on his face-"in the middle of war? The only one who was eating that well was Luxa, who tried to turn all the food to her down but was forced by the council, but believe me, she's not doing so well now, I presume." Ripred growled animatedly. "Now, is there still a problem or can we get down to important business?"

"Important business." Gregor scoffed. "Yeah, go ahead, is it about ravaging for more food?"

Ripred shot a look at Luke, registering each of his features, and was compelled to glower at Gregor, neutralizing him. "Yeah, I'm probably going to have to do that, because he's not going anywhere anytime soon." Ripred gesticulated at Luke with his sharp tail.

Gregor, for the-what was it, trillionth time?-was stunned. "How'd you know I wanted him to come with us?"

Ripred bitterly and exasperatedly shook his head in disgust. "Wake up, boy!" Ripred snarled. "We can't have you randomly dying out on us! It's obvious that you told him of the Underland, because you introduced him to me, and the only reason you'd do that is to take him with us! If you don't wake up now, what the hell are you going to do in the Underland besides get killed on the spot?"

Gregor did have to admit, he was feeling tired again, and the shock and awe he'd just gone through in the past-it was only an hour?-was blinding and shell-shocking his brain into virtual oblivion.

But he had too much to do, too much to find out, before he could even try to go to sleep.

"How'd you even get hurt?" Gregor heard Ripred saying to Luke. "Let me guess: that rager-" Ripred pointedly flicked his tail at Gregor as a brief sign of recognition-"demolished you without even thinking about what he was doing. As usual." Sarcasm flooded his tone, and it was all Gregor could do to not leap at Ripred and pound him into the ground.

But it would probably end up with Gregor forced onto the ground, 600 pounds of rat-600, 700?-cozily roosting on top of him, an awed Luke trying hard not to snicker.

Through gritted teeth, Gregor said in a strained voice, "I needed to see how well he could fight, because I needed to see if he was good enough to be taken into the Underland or not."

"And I suppose you had to maul him this badly because?" Ripred raised his eyebrows, mockingly presuming the stance of anticipating an answer.

"Look, I lost control for a minute!" Gregor absolutely implacidly argued back. "I didn't completely master this thing yet! For the past years, this was the only fight I've gotten that I've utilized my rager senses in!"

Ripred was clearly perpetually shocked. "All these years, and you fended all these people off easily without even going rager?" When Gregor nodded solemnly yet vehemently, Ripred marvelled, "Then...you really are going to be a big help. Some of the people in this world seem to be a bit above the average."

Gregor nodded at Luke. "Luke is one of those beings that surpassed those above the average...and he's probably surpassed those who are above the people above the average."

Luke felt compelled to offer a nod of gratitude at the abundant praise he'd been given, and said, "I've always trained myself."

"With what?" Gregor asked.

"My fists, boxing equipment...and I'm decent in swordplay, as well." Luke replied. It was all Gregor could do to fight the urge to embrace Luke as soon as he said he was good at swords.

As it was, he mustered out, "Well, that's reassuring. Because there's not going to be much of anything else in the Underland."

Luke nodded, and asked, "When is it that we embark on this journey?" It wasn't just the average journey, Gregor countered if only in his mind. It's a perilous, spectacular leap we have to make that we probably won't survive.

"Can I ask you a question?" Gregor prompted uneasily. "Why...why are you so eager to go to the Underland?"

It was as if Luke had forseen Gregor's alleged question, and he took a long moment to look upwards. Gregor shot a sneaky look up, to, hoping to find the answers to the universe written for him up there. Too bad. They weren't.

When Luke finally looked back at Gregor, he passively spoke, "I have nothing left to live for up here. My family...dead. My education wouldn't do much for me except make me a potential murder victim, because I would be getting money...prosperity won't back until I'm about to die of old age, or it might never come back at all."

Gregor acknowledged this forlornly, and Ripred nodded somberly. Ripred replied, "But just to be telling you...you can die in the Underland. We will not drag you into this if you don't want to go."

"I knew that from what Gregor told me." Luke replied with the toneless voice he used before.

"Anyways, nobody is going anywhere now, not with you this beaten up." Ripred snorted, glaring angrily at Gregor.

"There wasn't any way to test him without fighting him!" Gregor rebuked, but derision played in his voice. Maybe he shouldn't have hurt Luke that much...

Gregor instantly thought of something else. "We have to wait? For how long?" Gregor wailed at Ripred.

"A day or two, I guess." Ripred shrugged, futilely trying to pretend that the wait wouldn't bother him in the least.

Gregor's head throbbed with pain, and he actually thought about shoving Ripred aside and running to Central Park, where he could throw that stupid stone aside and rush into the refuge of the Underland, allowing it to swallow him up. He couldn't stand staying here for a minute more.

But Ripred would probably have to slash him up to stop him, and that would cause a further hindering delay of a few more days. But Gregor doubted that Ripred would wait that long, and he would probably be dragged down to the Underland, poor condition he'd be in.

"Why can't the doctors in Regalia treat him?" Gregor hastily whined, but he instantly regretted it, already knowing the answer.

Ripred shook his head in disgust for the umpteenth time. "Boy," Ripred viciously growled. "The doctors have enough to deal with." And he left it at that.

"To hell with all of this," Gregor groaned. "I'm going to bed." He abruptly turned, stabbing a finger at a bed to introduce Luke to his temporary bed. After hurtling a infuriated glare at Ripred, who lackadasically glanced back at him, Gregor abjectly stalked off to his bed albeit it being a few quick strides away.

Luke was puzzled as to the relationship between the rat and the rager, but decided to keep quiet, noting the despondence Gregor was sporting. Instead, he furtively glanced at Ripred, who shrugged.

"What made him so angry?" Ripred asked Luke.

"Ripred, SHUT UP!" An enraged howl escaped from Gregor's room.

"That rager, so melodramatic," Ripred sighed, feigning innocence.

More screams.

Luke was trying hard not to laugh.

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