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What are the best teasers to play? Our methodology for playing 6-point teasers is:
Take the underdog when the line is +1½, +2, +2½, or +3;
Take the favorite when the line is -7½, -8, -8½, or -9.
The strategy listed above is very similar to the strategy written by Blackjack expert Stanford Wong in his book Sharp Sports Betting. There's debate in Wong teasers over whether we should play games at exactly +3, whether we should care about the home team, and whether we should care about the total. My opinions on those three debates are yes to +3, no to home/road splits, and maybe to totals. Read my post in Week 1 for the full mathematical details. What are the best sweetheart teasers? 10-point teasers are often called "sweetheart" teasers. Our methodology on 10-point teasers is:
For 10-point teasers, take the underdog when the line is +1½, +2, or +2½;
Do not take sweetheart teasers at +3;
Do not take sweetheart teasers on favorites.
Will following this strategy definitely mean I make money? Once upon a time, this strategy used to be quite reliable. In 2020, I don't have enough conclusive evidence to say that Wong teasers are indeed a winning strategy. Besides, all of this seems very data-miney and that makes me uncomfortable. Personally, I'm not ready to commit real money to this strategy yet. Rather, I'll be using this year to track, in real-time, how these Wong bets are doing. For my tracking this year, I'll be counting underdogs and favorites separately. I won't be paying attention to totals or home/road splits. What were the results in Week 2 this year? I'm using the closing line at Bovada to determine which games qualify as Wong bets. (You can use sbrodds.com to verify I'm being honest about what the closing numbers were.) These were the games and results in Week 2 this year:
Los Angeles Rams +1½
San Francisco -7½
Tampa Bay -7½
What percentage of teaser legs have hit in the past? Assuming that a 2-team, 6-point teaser pays out at -120, we must demonstrate better than 73.9% probability on each leg to have positive EV. For 3-team sweethearts paying out at -130, the threshold is 82.7%.
+1½ thru +3
+1½ thru +3
+1½ thru +3
+1½ thru +3
-7½ thru -9
-7½ thru -9
-7½ thru -9
-7½ thru -9
+1½ thru +2½
+1½ thru +2½
+1½ thru +2½
+1½ thru +2½
What are the Week 3 plays being tracked? As of the time of this post, these would be the Wong plays for this week.
Green Bay +3
Los Angeles Rams +2
Miami +3 (Thursday)
I emphasize that the list above is unofficial. If the line moves between the time of this post and kickoff of the game, you might see some games fall off of this list or some games be added to this list. The determining factors are what sbrodds.com says Bovada's closing line is and the methodology laid out at the top of this post. If Bovada's spread happens to be a point or so off of the consensus or if they engage in line shading, then so be it. However I reserve the right to reject Bovada's number in situations where it's obviously wrong, such as a typo causing -8 to turn into -80. In all of my data so far, I've yet to invoke this right. If I ever do in the future, I promise to disclose that information anytime I post tracking results. Why play the closing lines? The strategy is to bet into the "most accurate line" possible and the assumption is that later lines are more accurate. The word "accurate" here is meant to describe a situation where the probability of the actual result landing on either side of the line is close to 50/50. To win a teaser bet, we can either beat the regular spread or win the leg because the actual final score (margin) landed on a number that we gained through teaser movement.
Teaser leg win%
Beat regular spread
Margin lands on line movement
There's two variables in the probability equation above, so let's talk about both of them. First is your ability to beat the normal spread, written as probability X. You have two options for X:
Door #1: bet into an accurate line, in which case X is 50%.
Door #2: bet into an inaccurate line, in which case X is either below 50% or above 50%.
The act of choosing door #2 is to "handicap" the game yourself; you find inaccurate lines by taking advantage of virgin numbers or by forming your own opinion on the game based on what you know about the teams. Door #1 is to ignore all information. In a straight bet ATS, probability X is the only way to win the bet. (That is to say, Y=0 in a non-teaser.) Because the payout is usually around -110, door #1 is guaranteed to be a losing strategy in straight ATS bets. Nobody can beat the spread consistently by blinding throwing darts at the board. That's why you're encouraged to pick door #2 in straight bets ATS. If you're already good at picking door #2, then more power to you; keep making your money by beating the regular spread on normal non-teaser bets. The reason why you're encouraged to pick door #1 in Wong teasers is because you're taking advantage of the teaser line movement. In the equation from above, X=50% is sufficient if we can make probability Y large enough. Y depends on your ability to tease through key numbers. Sure, X greater than 50% is nice to have. But if the situation says X=50% is enough, what's the incentive in risking door #2? How can I play tonight's game if I'm supposed to wait for closing numbers on Sunday's games? This post is merely counting what percentage of Wong legs hit. It's meant to determine your expected value on Wong teasers, not necessarily your actual value. Whether or not tonight's Miami +9 hits is relevant in determining the long-term validity of future Wong teasers as a whole. Whether or not you're able to get action down on tonight's Miami +9 isn't within the scope of this post. That having been said, some books will allow you to play open-ended teasers where you can fill in the first leg now and the second leg later. But also keep in mind that my official advice regarding Wong teasers is to not play them until further research is conducted. How often are you going to post? Once a week. Usually Saturday evening, but I will adjust the timeline forward in situations where the Thursday game is potentially a tracked play.
Winning at fantasy means making predictions and acting on them prior to other players. To do that, you don't always have the privileges of hindsight and deduction. You will need foresight and inference. I hope to offer a some good if not somewhat inferential arguments for why some early moves on this weekly (if I have time) post. Fantasy thinking is often over-obsessed with statistical correlations at the expense of firm causal understanding of what is happening on the field. The forest is often lost for the trees. A combination of understanding the game of football, recognizing interconnected changes that will influence teams, and eye testing the games themselves is the best antidote to the groupthink, herd-mentality of fantasy football expertism which, time and again, proves spotty at best in anticipating changes. Last week I posted this as "Eye-tested Takes" but I realized that's not what I was aiming for. A variety of posters and services watch the whole game and give you maximally thorough takes on every snap. I won't offer much of an opinion on players/teams I don't watch. I'll always watch enough. However, a lot of what I'll make as the case for picking up (or dropping) a player will be based on obvious things that are happening that rankings-myosis may miss. There's always an elephant in the room that no one want's to acknowledge. This post gives fantasy advice that accounts for the elephants on the field.
Things I'm right about (so far):
1. Rivers Noodle Arm = Colts Lean into Jonathon Taylor:
With the quality of that offensive line, Mack going down, and Rivers looking like shit, Jonathon Taylor may end-up being a top-5 back this year. TY Hilton and Parris Campbell are going to disappoint you.
A bunch of commenters disagreed, insisting Hines was the guy to get and Taylor as a top-5 was nuts. This is an instance of the eye-test making people too smart. Yes, Taylor netted 22 yards on 9 carries week 1. Who cares, he was great in college (larger sample size) and more importantly, Rivers looks SOOO spent that Taylor is the only obvious bell-cow RB for what is probably the best O-line in the league. You want that. Rivers threw it 25 times in week two (down from 44). Taylor had 26 carries, 2 receptions, 110 yards, and 1 touchdown. It was obvious what had to happen in Indy but fantasy groupthink herded everyone toward Hines. If you had the audacity to ignore me on this (/s), the good news is there's still time. His trade value has skyrocketed on most charts but he's not quite valued as a top back yet. If you get the feel someone is under-valuing him, don't wait longer because his first 2 TD game is going to make him inaccessible in a trade. The Colts defense is also looking good enough to maintain a lead throughout a game, opening-up more run play calls. (Rivers sucking is going to do that all the time anyway). And if you still don't believe me, watch his highlights from this week and you'll see why he could be such a focal point. He does a lot of things that coaches like to lean-into: great ball security, adds 2-3 yards to the end of runs, explosive speed when he has big holes. 2.Browns Offense is fine:
Don't panic about the Browns offense. Baker Mayfield looked like trash but the running offense actually looked pretty good at times...Stefanski is the guy you need to believe in... The biggest takeway from the game isn't the Browns offense is bad, its that the Ravens defense is great.
Both Browns running back scored multiple TD's and registered more than 150 yards each week 2. Baker continued to suck and it didn't matter. Stefanski's offense is good and his coaching career is a testament to his talent. All-Ivy-League Football Player. First coaching job was in the NFL. They wouldn't let him leave for 14 years because they knew he was a talent. So don't run from Chubb or Hunt yet. And if you have them both, start them both and don't feel bad (unless you have a clearly better option like Zeke too...then probably favor starting Kareem Hunt the larger your ppr value, but its a tough call). The Browns are a perfect storm that make both startable: (a) Both Chubb and Hunt have top-5 rb talent and it comes across when you watch them on the field. With good combinations of strength and speed, each one is TD risk on every snap. (b) Sefanski divides snaps very well. Both are getting touches-a-plenty. They just signed they're "back-up" RB to a new contract (I mean, how often does that happen in the modern NFL?). KS also divides snaps by drive, unless a drive gets very long, so even if Chubb is doing well, he's going to give Kareem Hunt a whole drive. (c) starting both is fading Baker which is smart. The Browns are going to increasingly realize that their offense is more effective with Baker doing less. They may even move to Case Keenum (their back-up, legit didn't know that last week) and that's fine for Chubb/Hunt. I wouldn't run from OBJ or Jarvis Landry yet either, though Baker's ineptitude has got to make you worry. Think about what Minnesota offenses did over the years with Diggs, Theilen, etc. Both OBJ and Landry are going to be solid bets for big-play TD's (like OBJ's last Thursday) here and there but likely not breaking the top-10. Still, the talent ceiling is high with both so a buy-low scenario where you get them in a trade could pay-off if you bet on Stefanski more than Mayfield. 3. Deandre Hopkins is the WR1
Deandre Hopkins will be the #1 fantasy receiver this year... And most importantly, the offensive situation in Arizona is the perfect storm for his fantasy situation. Kyler Murray is good, but he's not working his way through progressions yet.
Hopkins nabbed a TD but only had 9 targets this week. I'll admit that I only watched Kyler Murray's highlights so forgive me if its there and I didn't see it, buuuuut...He's not completing passes to 2nd and 3rd reads. Its one read then run. That's great for Hopkins' stats because the further into the season they get, the MORE Hopkins is going to be involved on plays designed to chuck it to him, no matter what. Hopkins is one of those guys that's always open, and Kyler is a smart player who knows that AND knows he's not good enough yet to start looking for someone else if Hopkins is "covered". That may hurt the Cardinals at some point. But Hopkins is getting fed this season. And obviously, a rash of injuries at WR has made this look to be a better prediction. Hopkins is already a stud in that offense and he's still learning it. His stock is only going up from here. Its true the WR's new offenses typically do poorly. A couple of reasons why that's not true of Hopkins: (a) he's physically the most gifted receiver in the league. Randy Moss kicked ass his first year with the Patriots. Some players are talented enough that it doesn't take time, as long as they're smart as hell like Randy Moss or (b) Hopkins is an intelligent dude. He negotiated his own contract and didn't fuck it up. He wants to be G.M. Big brained guy, he'll pick up quickly. You can see that on the field, he's constantly looking back at Kyler to make sure he did the right thing on each play. (c) HOF'er in the WR room: Fitz will get him up to speed fast. Quick note about Kyler Murray: He's tearing it up. One encouraging thing that you might not see how little he's allowing himself to be tackled. As a fantasy owner, that's encouraging because it suggests he can sustain a high running floor and not get injured. And there's an added assurance that he's putting those slides for zero yards (for example) on tape because the coaches see that too and are more willing to call more of those plays down the stretch. Still, I wouldn't compare him to Lamar Jackson last season yet. Lamar Jackson was throwing TD's to his 4th and 5th read in week 1 against the Dolphins last season. Murray may hit a scheme ceiling where defenses, especially good ones, start to take away his 1 and 2 and contain his run game (though it is strong and he has good vision).
Things I was totally wrong about: zero things!
HA! Next section!
Things I'm not right about yet but pretty soon I will be:
1. Joe Burrow AJ Green is going to be good.
If you watch the game, you see Joe Burrow fitting the ball into tight windows in clutch situations. In fact, he wasn't finding a lot of open receivers, he was throwing the ball well/correctly into great coverage and making lemonade. Also, AJ Green is looking fully healthy and like his old self.
Well, AJ Green was targeted 13 times and caught...3 of those passes for 29 yards. So clearly, the chemistry between them was oversold by me last week. Still, 13 targets is encouraging and so is the Bengals inability to run the ball. No matter how much they try, they're wretched run-blocking always leaves them down late in games and in 3rd-and-forever situations. They just let a rookie throw it 61 times. Another consideration is that Denzel Ward was covering Green all night:
A.J. Green has had an up-and-down career vs. the Browns. Thursday’s game was on the down side, and it had mostly to do with Denzel Ward. Green had three catches for 29 yards. Overall, Ward broke up three passes against the Bengals. And according to Next Gen Stats, Ward was making life difficult for Joe Burrow all night, forcing eight tight window passes in 11 targets as the nearest defender.
Green is still pretty low on trade value charts but stands to have a huge upside as Burrow's primary target. 2. Rodgers is back.
...are there really any physical traits that are important to his game that would fade significantly at 36 year's old? I didn't see any missing zip off of his throws. I did see fucking darts getting tossed all over the field into tiny windows.
Aaron Jones is the #1 fantasy RB right now so obviously saying Rodgers is fully back is pre-mature. However, he is impressing with some very, very pretty darts. Also, the elephant on the field for the Packers is that Aaron Rodgers is a player driven by ego. Not a knock on him, he's just a guy who needs mojo to play at his finest. Maybe it required the stimulation of an insulting draft pick to prod him back into his HOF form. I'm not saying Rodgers can be a top 3 QB this year with Jackson and Murray running so well, but 4 or 5 doesn't seem out of reach. Rodgers is pff top-graded QB right now btw.
1.The Ravens are the best defense in the NFL. The loss of Earl Thomas is doesn't matter as much as what has been gained with Patrick Queen and L.J. Fort. Queen is incredibly fast and explosive underneath, getting into the backfield and making big plays. And L.J. Fort (top rated pff lb right now) combine to give them rangey-coverage, tackling, and pass break-up ability over the middle they didn't have before which has further weaponized they're depth at CB (Humphrey, Peters, Smith). Peters specifically is a ball hawk that's found a great home in Baltimore; he couldn't scheme well anywhere else but Harbaugh has found a way to give him the freedom to ball hawk. Over the long haul, Harbaugh has maintained a great defense, regardless of departures/changes, for years and years. When he has this much talent, his defenses are typically dominant. Be warry of starting iffy players against them at any position. They're worth trading for, I think the turnovedef TD potential makes them worth it. 2. J.K. Dobbins will break-out out as the preferred option in the Ravens backfield. Mark Ingram and Gus Edwards have both proven to be reliable RB's for the Raven offense. But Ingram is 30 with over 200 carries in 3 of the last 4 seasons. Edwards has been reliable, a home-grown UDFA. But at 238lbs and without elite speed, he's leaving many big runs on the table. Dobbins didn't attend the combine. But ran a 4.44 40...in high school:
Dobbins posted a 4.44s 40-yard dash, 4.09s short shuttle and a 43.1-inch vertical jump as a high school senior at the event. There are also many reports that Dobbins squatted over 700 pounds.
He has power running balance and break-out speed that NONE of the other backs in Baltimore have. 4th rounder Justice Hill was their attempt of to develop that speed last year but didn't break out. A couple of elephants make this one a good bet: (a) Lamar's durability -- right now, he's taking a bunch of carries because he's the only one in their backfield that has the speed to break huge runs. If Dobbins can fill that role, Lamar Jackson can afford to take fewer chances and John Harbaugh can opt to only drop him back to pass 7 times in the second half when they're winning, like what happened in week 2. (b) that defense -- Baltimore's defense is going to be great enough this year to take over games, making steady doses of run plays inevitable as they'll spend a lot of games up by 2 scores. Yes, they were up like that a lot last year but their only homerun hitter in the backfield was Lamar (see above, Justice Hill wasn't getting it done). Here's an example: this is a shot from Gus Edwards' 22 yard scamper last week: https://preview.redd.it/mhhhpzmkrxo51.png?width=1920&format=png&auto=webp&s=3cdf46ac4bcce3e503729f909c0e787f85459eb9 The Ravens offensive line is good at opening holes like this. While it didn't prove important in this game (BAL was up 30-16 at the time), each run like this where a more explosive player could scored is an opportunity cost for the people calling plays. And its not just points left behind, its points scored while Lamar is watching like a fan. Its points that could allow more aggressive defensive play calling. If you're a coach for Baltimore, you don't necessarily want Lamar to have a gaudy stat-line every week if you're winning. If he can throw 16 passes in a game and then sit-out the 4th quarter, that's ideal from the franchise's perspective (though not so much for Fantasy managers). Each Ingram/Edwards run that coulda been a touchdown means there's more time on the field for Lamar, larger portion of the game where they're not playing a dominant lead, and higher chance that they'll lose because points were left on the field. They need someone else hitting home runs in the running game. Am I fading Lamar because of all of this? Not yet. Eye test = that guy is a singular talent. His throwing motion is smooth like Vick's, just a gifted, effortless release. He's also great at mostly avoiding contact (though all contact is bad contact if you're his coaches). Great decision maker too. Makes multiple reads on plays. Can't say enough about how great of player he is. Still, Baltimore is well put-together enough that they may be able to functionally win without him. So don't be surprised if, especially approaching the playoffs, Baltimore starts calling plays that don't involve as much Lamar. What's scary is that they may be a complete football team without him and he's the reigning MVP. Finally, Dobbins had two carries last week. One was for a 44 yard gain where the blocking was good but not nearly as good as the image above. Even if the transition to him isn't fast, he could force the issue like Chubb did his rookie year, gaining 100 yards on 3 carries in a game. No matter what, the Ravens will run by committee but there will come a point where the player to start out of the trio is Dobbins without a doubt. 3. Minshew is the truth and his team situation makes him a great fantasy player. Minshew isn't the most talented QB in the league. But above all things, he is competitive and scrappy. The Jags are good but not great so he's going need a lot of that scrappy-iness (lol, just say that sentence out loud, you'll hear it). James Robinson is very good and they're going to lean on him a lot. But when the time for much needed yards and points, it seems like the Jags tag Gardner Minshew II's Id in at offensive coordinator. Minshew isn't likely going to be top-5 qb but he might make the top 10 and is likely easier to get than other top targets. Part of the reason DJ Chark isn't getting the production folks hoped is because Minshew is effectively spreading the ball around. Good for the jags, bad for fantasy owners. I wouldn't panic. One of his targets I picked-up to stash is Laviska Shenault Jr. He's getting a legit number of carries each week and averaging over 10 yards per reception. He's an interesting pick-up because he doubles as handcuffs for Robinson. Seems like his carry count could go up to 10ish no problem if the Jags lost Robinson. So pay attention to what position he's listed in your league, scoring rules about how carries count in ppr, etc. But he passes the eye test, very shifty and fast on the field. 4. Teams that are quickly turning into dumpster fires that you should across-the-board fade: Jets Gase is the worst. Never underestimate the ability of a shitty boss to ruin a workspace and make everyone fucking hate themselves, even though they're well compensated to play a game for a living. Listen, I know there's always gems on bad teams. But I have high blood pressure. So tuning into games with players I need to play well and watching the offense go 3-and-out 5 times in a row...I'm literally too old for that shit now so I try to stray-away from dumpster fire teams. Vikings Kubiak has got some big Stefanski shoes to fill and he's doing a bad job so far. I wouldn't panic about Dalvin Cook yet but another bad couple of weeks and I'd start shopping him. See the Browns thing above: Stefanski may have made the Vikings offense look better than it actually was for a decade. Combine that with the defense whose secondary would be better if they were scare crows and you're looking at a team that can't plan to run the ball for more than a quarter or 2. Teams to be worried about: Broncos Whew, the injuries. They're basically just starting with new team. We'll see how things go. Detroit Matt Patricia may have lost this team. And coaches like him don't recover team faith/confidence well in a loss-spiral. Texans BoB is going to crash that plane into a mountain while we all watch. Poor Watson, just watching Deandre Hopkins ball-out. One thing you can still bet on for awhile out of the Texans offense; Bill O'Brien is ego- and career-invested in David Johnson doing great things. He'll role with him when he shouldn't to prove to everyone that he was right to trade Nuk. Its dumb. But he's dumb.
Fortune Favors The Bold (FFTB) Predictions
WARNING: What you're about to read is not necessarily good fantasy advice, but things for me to say "told you so" about a week from now. I take no responsibility for any money you lose (and all responsibility for the money you win). Still, Alexander the Great said, Fortune Favors the Bold.
JK Dobbins scores more fantasy points than CEH this week. (This prediction is backed-up by the time-honored tradition of spitting in one's hand and shaking on it so this shit is serious. Its also painful because I'm a Chiefs fan.)
Laviska Shenault scores a running and a receiving touchdown tonight.
Jonathon Taylor is the RB1 this week and its not close.
Danny Dimes throws 3 TD's this week against the 49ers.
I'm probably wrong about most of this shit but FORTUNE FAVORS THE BOLD! Thanks for reading! If I continue to be kind mostly right and people find it a good read, I'll keep posting these each week. Good luck! EDIT: Thanks for the awards and upvotes strangers! I'll bring the column back next week. Appreciate the comments too, thanks for the banter, shit-talk, and criticism. I'll be spittin in palms again soon. EDIT AGAIN: Thanks again for the feedback. This is fun and I'm going to enjoy doing it again next week. Some of the comments have suggested that the post doesn't really go out on many limbs. I'll do that more in the future. I've also added an extra section with a few "FFTB predictions" for this week.
I'm a commentator for a tournament of nightmares. Before we reach the end, I got the interview of a lifetime.
Where this tournament began. If you're lost or wish to know more; Here's some extra info on our fighters provided by the NFC. Where we left off: For every victory, there's an even greater consequence. - There was only one person among the crowd not applauding, not celebrating and not cheering. Nelle had been trembling since she looked over the distorted form of Wendy and had barely calmed down now that things had settled. Together, we looked at the descending screen showcasing the fight between Malphas and Zunkle, the countdown to their match and the title fight following it. There was a moment of silence before she put her hands on my arm, gripping the bicep tightly. “We need to talk. I think it’s time to be honest about some things. Bring your equipment, even the music player. We'll need it.” I stared back and went to open my mouth, but thought better of it and nodded as we took off for her intended destination, darting & weaving through the crowds as deftly as we could. Nelle refused to let go of my arm the entire time. Though if it was out of necessity or fear, I couldn’t tell you. Passing through the third ring of the venue, something bumped into us and sent me hurtling to the ground, smacking my skull on the concrete and struggling to get up amid swathes of eager audience members looking to make a bet, grab a snack or discuss tactics. Each time I tried to get up, eyes blurry and ears ringing, something would knock me back over. A gruff hand took me by the shirt and hoisted me effortlessly to my feet, dusting me off. “It’s gonna happen soon, Sal. Protect ‘em, like you promised.” A cocky, brash voice called from behind me as a furry head nuzzled against my hand for the briefest of moments. Before I could turn back, the figure pushed me forward, through the crowd and towards Nelle, who’d only just spotted me. “Up here, we’ve got the area to ourselves. Just the three of us.” She muttered, leading me to a wall adjacent to the pit, an embedded ladder leading to a hatch above. “Three? You mean the guy and his dog who just picked me up?” I asked, following her up the steps and the promise of fresh air filling me with vigour. She twitched when I said that, frozen in place as if stabbed with a dagger. Without looking back, she shook her head. “No, not them… You’ll see.” With that, she hoisted the hatch open and climbed up, helping me to my feet as we traversed the concrete and over to a pair of sofas and a coffee table opposite the edge of the building. The stars above rhythmic in their blinking, constellations I couldn’t recognise swirling in the inky blackness, promising secrets untold if I just sat down to decipher them. Across from the building, we could see a pair of lit up billboard’s, one highlighting the: "Natural beauty and mystique of Sturgeon: the nations black pearl!" The latter offering a stay at the eponymous Hotel Inertia, the pair of finely crafted Olive Tree doors sporting an ouroboros serpent across the length of them, a radiant woman standing in front. Middle-aged, a shaven black head and a trim frame adorned by a blue suit with not a single button out of place, smiling wide with the motto of the establishment beneath her. “The Hotel Inertia; A room for Sturgeon’s finest. A floor for every occasion.” I felt something the longer I stared at the billboard. Prying my eyes away felt like the smart thing to do as I followed Nelle over to the couches. She propped her feet up and winced, wounds still tender from her brush with death. “It always finds a way to keep me going, though I’d hoped I’d never have to have this conversation. Least of all with you…” She pinched her nose and let out a bitter chuckle. “Fate is cruel, isn’t it, Sal?” She gestured for me to sit down and mechanically, as if I was awaiting grim news, I did so. Setting up the recording equipment and hitting play, I fell back into my usual role as a broadcaster. I spoke my mind. “Madame Lockwood… Nelle… what is it you need to tell me? So much of my time here has been spent in secrecy, voices calling from the shadows and people who know ME but I don't know them. I... I need some answers. I need them from you." I asked, keeping it blunt was the best course of action to begin with. Open questions allowed for better answers. She sighed and without looking at me, began talking, her lip quivering. “We talked about the monk & the nun before, the idea that there is a constant cycle of birth, pursuit, struggle, death, regret and forget. I’m not going to insult your intelligence by stating that it's JUST a story, we both know it’s not. But since this began, both the story and this…” She gestured around her, signalling the NFC tournament. “You’ve been kept in the dark about the various roles at work. Some of those threads will unravel themselves before the night is done. Some will be obvious and some will… inevitably hurt. But, the one thread I suspect you wouldn’t know of without intervention, is the one I hold onto…” She reached over the table and grabbed the music player, scrolling to her chosen playlist and hitting play. Slowly, she pulled out a locket from around her neck alongside the ear she’d severed from the lycanthrope, placing it on the table with a small thud. “This is the ear of Buck Nasty McGraw… Sir Simon “Buck Nasty” McGraw, to be specific… He got the two tiered moniker from taking out his first abomination… a Lycanthrope that’d been eating the denizens of a local indigenous village. It bucked and kicked around while he frantically held on, laughing heartily like there was nowhere else he’d rather be… from that day on, he was Buck Nasty McGraw. Never a dull moment or cruel bone in his body, he’d only take down what was a threat.” She smiled wistfully, eyes glazed over with years of pain and regret. “He was my confidant, my friend and my everything. Far away from the eyes of Sturgeon in another world entirely, we hunted down a rogue group of individuals seeking a power no-one should ever wish to behold. They’d housed themselves in the lives of unsuspecting townsfolk, whispering in their ear to do unspeakable things and bring them items to cause unmitigated disasters. When the elder reached out, he called them “The Order of 8” but they had a more direct titling…” She looked over as the hatch swung open and a battered, tired Wendy hoisted herself up and walked over, arm still bandaged up and face-mask once again in its rightful place as she finished Nelle’s sentence. “The Unbounded. The same scourge that dogged us in The Hotel. They were called “The Order of the 8th floor” before we came to know them intimately.” There was a chill that ran through my bones, the very phrase standing my hairs on end, and made the surroundings feel like they rattled for a moment. Nelle nodded. “Buck and I went in there to stop them. Buck was special, you see. He had an innate ability to see what nobody else could, to befriend any creature that had the capacity to love and to identify the weaknesses of those who would seek to do us harm. But in this particular instance, it was my specialities that were needed. In the life before I became The Compendium Keeper, I was known as something else. A Sin Eater. The last Sin Eater, to be exact.” She took pause and passed the locket over, the faded image of a younger Nelle in her 20s, dreads tied back in a bun with dimples in her cheeks as she smiled ear to ear. A dashing man in his 30s winking at the camera with his muscular arm draped over her, adorned in tattoos and a thick black beard, sporting a stetson and a gold tooth that shone brightly even from the sepia toned photo, his ears adorned with piercings and a stretched lobe on the right. She directed my attention to the severed Lycanthrope ear on the table. Adorned with piercings and a small hole at the bottom of the skin. “We went in there and began extracting them one by one, before something happened and we were left with a choice; Buck could give up me or something just as precious… he chose the latter, leaving me with a world devoid of him and a new purpose: Seek out the evil that subjected him to a fate worse than death, help end the cycle and guide the next group in their time of need. Such is my role. Buck lost me, but you can still save Nora.” I looked at her dumbfounded, wondering how on earth I fit into any of this. “Nora Zayne does not need saving from anyone, she’s clearly a beast who knows how to fight. I’m just an ordinary guy.” She smiled at me, clearly in a place of far greater understanding than I was, but without that air of superiority. She simply offered warmth when she spoke. “She knows as well as you do how strong she is, but that isn’t the kind of saving I’m referring to. She will need you at a critical moment and how you respond will change everything afterwards.” She sighs and tucks the ear away, keeping the locket out. “And as for you being ordinary? Right now, yes. But much like Buck, Sully, Sigurd & Sema before you, you’ll become something wonderful. When the time is right. She left you a note, didn't she?” I blinked, thinking back to the note I'd seen on top of The Compendium right before Nelle's fight: "Sal, This tournament is coming to a close and you’re going to see things you don’t want to. Things that will hurt. But if you believe in anything while you’re here, make it this: You are only as powerless as you let yourself feel. You are only as in control as you allow yourself to be. You can be the background noise in a busy room or the light that punctures the darkness. But either way, you’ll always be my friend. - N” "You mean... that wasn't..." I breathed, but she shushed me softly. She leaned forward and kissed my forehead, a motherly affection running through me as she cupped my cheek and patted it gently before walking off to the hatch. “In the right light, you even remind me of him…” She grinned and I saw years peel away in the wake of her joy. I just nodded, still dumbfounded. “I’d best get our notes prepared for the exhibition match and have a word with our eponymous Nora. You still have the interview of a lifetime, right?” Turning back, Wendy was already splayed out on the couch, arm draped over her eyes and one leg crossed at the knee bouncing in rhythm. “A promise is a promise, Sal. I’m sure all those at home will get a kick outta this…” She took her good arm away from her face for just a moment, long enough to give the Hotel Inertia billboard the finger. “Fuckin’ hellhole, I wonder how the fuck it’s even still standing?” “So you were a resident in this Hotel? What happened? How did you get from there to… here?” I took out a notepad and began hastily jotting down shorthand, something I’d learned to do from my younger days as a fight analyst on live broadcasts. Certainly not for the bum-fights, regrettable as those were to be a part of. “Resident isn’t the right word. I wouldn’t have even said I was from Sturgeon prior to meeting the gang, because to me: Sturgeon didn’t exist. Every floor in that fuckin’ structure is its own reality. Its own world. One floor, where we met our friend Robin, contained an entire tent community basking in the sickening sounds of a grand gazebo atop the hill that made them all docile, sickly and weak. When we stopped the sound, they began tearing each other apart. The last thing we saw was the elders skull being caved in as the doors closed.” She sat up and leaned forward, putting a finger up as if to stop me from asking something. “To be clear: The elevator stopped inside the tip of a rooftop terrace, not unlike the one that we have here with the hatch. There was NOTHING above but black skies, the expanse beyond this floor was endless. And yet… we ascended when we got back in, not descended. That entire Hotel houses things you could never dream of. Including where I came from, a cul-de-sac of domesticated monsters…” For the first time, I saw a deep pain in Wendy, even more pronounced than the initial anger after seeing Nelle fall. She was shaking, fists balled up so tight that the fingers cut into the palms, eyes alight with passion. “I don’t remember being a child. I just remember waking up in the middle of this prissy, far too perfect cul-de-sac with monsters pretending they weren’t monsters. That bitch over there on the billboard picked me up, my body just filled with the kind of impending doom you feel when you see someone driving dangerously on the road in front of you or walking down a street at night and the only other guy on the footpath has his hood up and is making a beeline for you… just absolute fucking dread. As she knocked on the door of the people that would come to be my “adopted family”, I remember her looking down at me with wide eyes, tiny pupils and a grin that looked like it was on tenterhooks. She said: “you’ll be a fantastic offering for the others” before everything faded to black…" She shivered and I felt the same disgust and dread she felt. The idea of being somewhere you didn't recognise, the last face you see that of utter malice and sinister intent emanating from their being. I'd been there... "Some time later, I found a crazy guy named Sigurd laying in a crumpled heap by the elevator doors. I tended to him and he got to see firsthand what role I played in the hungry family… that of their endless meal. I don’t know what it was about him, but something in the way he behaved, spoke to his friends or maybe his will to survive… but I swear to god that it was the first time I truly woke up.” She ran a hand through her hair, breathing out dramatically and sniffing. “Man, if and when I see him again, I need to thank him properly. He helped me see something in myself that I knew was always there but had been too stuck in my own head to realise…” “Freedom” I asked, tapping my pen against the notepad. She shook her head. “Value." There was a silence and I grew a stronger respect for her, not even realising the importance of self worth in the strong until that very moment. "After that, we acquired some new friends; one in the town of sickly sounds, a guy in a lone radio tower, and so it went. We’d eventually take on The Order Of The 8th Floor and all their horrors, before we ended up reuniting with The Concierge on the top floor, worse for wear and with a couple of losses in our wake. When all was said and done, we had her beat and Sigurd walked over to put an end to things. I’ll never forget how she smiled when the lightning struck or the last thing she ever said…” The wind picked up and I felt a bitter snap behind it, either my empathy was through the roof and I could feel what Wendy felt… or something ominous was in the air. “One down. Seven to go.” She finished, getting up and shaking her head. “I’m only just now understanding what she meant, but that question would lead me to rumours about the NFC and their tournaments. I decided to make myself a target for the upcoming Openweight tournament and seek out more answers, maybe get my wish along the way if I happened to win… of course, that didn’t happen and it leads me to a question for you, Sal.” She leaned down and looked me dead in the eyes, that mask more intimidating up close, power radiating from every pore of her skin. “Who made me feral? Who took out Qwong Xiao? Who is pulling the strings and why? You don’t see it as convenient that Eustace De Kolta, well known Wendigo hater, ends up facing a version of me that couldn’t see sense? That former challenger Nora Zayne is in there too?” “They’re setting up for something more…” I breathed, the tapping of my pen stopping. “But what?” “All I know is I’ll be on hand to help, however I can. Something tells me that we’re all gonna be needed when this is over. Beyond that, I have a feeling this exhibition match is going to be… interesting.” She cracked her back before walking off, holding up a lazy thumbs up with her good arm. “Thanks Sal, takes a skilled guy to do what you do and to let me run my mouth like that, hope it was worth it!” “I hope you see Sigurd again, Wendy. I’m sure he’d be proud of what you’ve done here. I know I am.” I blurted out, almost on command. She stopped in her tracks and didn’t turn back, but I saw her hand shaking as she put it back in her pocket. “Hell, now you know my wish. Good luck, Sal. You’ll need it.” - Sitting there and gathering my notes, I couldn’t help but feel overwhelmed in the moment, as I had done so many times throughout this tournament. It’s not so much that the world revolves around me, because it doesn’t, but to even consider I have my own part to play in this is a lot to absorb for someone who is used to calling the action from the safety of a booth or behind a computer screen. Why someone as decidedly dull and boring as me has a place here among killers is beyond me, but the more time passes, the more I feel that surge of emotion and desire to do SOMETHING.No matter what happens next, I have to do my part. I just wish I knew what that was. Picking up my things, I realised Nelle had left her locket and, not wanting it to get stolen or lost, I picked it up. A flash of memories hit me like a freight train. Holding onto a great beast as a younger Nelle screamed in fear, a conversation shrouded in darkness with a pair of sunken eyes floating in front of Nelle as I stood there, powerless. A deal with a gold toothed shadow, the handshake that sent shockwaves through my body… “Hurts, doesn’t it, Sal?” Whipping round, the voice seemed to come from all directions and I immediately recognised it as that of Moirah, one of the sisters. A tapping that sounded as if it was pounding on my eardrums reverberating around us, the thick air ripe with the smell of sulphur. “All those places, all those memories jostling for position. Like a mass in your skull… It builds strength, malice and accumulates the experiences you build over time before one day bursting and taking you with it. Life isn’t like a box of chocolates… no, it’s like an aneurysm; You never know which moment will be your last.” Hands gripped my shoulders and thick yellow nails dug into the soft flesh, pulling up at my tendons and moving me without my consent. My arms reaching out for the locket, Moirah giggling in my ear and Clodagh’s incessant banging making my eyes throb. “We are tired of waiting. Tired of constant mis-steps by you and those associated. If you cannot willingly understand the truth, we shall force it out of you. There is too much at stake for failure.” Hands grasp around the locket and the images begin to burn into my skull; Downing a drink that burns my insides. A lightning strike surging through my body. A gunshot to the head. A plane crash. A white snake curled in my arms as I slip away. The tear-stained face of someone I know strangling me as I helplessly struggle and buck my hips for dear life. Everything ebbs out of me and my knees buckle to the floor. All I see is red, my nose dripping blood and the world fading into nothing more than a pink hue. “She… she needs me.” I gurgle, the hands pushing down on me with extreme force, the tapping evolving into a thunderous chorus of aggression at my resistance. “She needs nothing from you. She only needs to play her part and that will be achieved with or without you. You are inconsequential. You are moments from fulfilling your purpose.” More flashes as a deep shade of red fills my peripheral vision. A young woman laying in her apartment, blood everywhere and an empty crib. The sounds of despair as the woman on the other end of a phone is beaten to death. Nelle crouched over a body and sobbing… Nora. Nora’s warm face as she hugs me before her last fight in the NFC. Why is she hugging me? “It’ll be fine. Trust me. I’ll win it for both of us.” Something in me snapped. A protective instinct I didn’t know I had. Pulling at the hands and feeling the pain surge through my chest, I didn’t care in that moment, I just knew I had to get up. “No. I have to… I’m all she has. We bring each other strength… you can’t stop that!” My body moved before I gave the command. My left leg flew out from under me and drove itself upwards, front of the foot colliding with the face of Moirah behind me. Bone fragments and blood accompanying a loud groan as I felt my body freed and the thunderous booming returning to a tap. Not waiting for a retaliation, I swiped the locket into my bag with my sleeve and dashed for the hatch, nearly tumbling down the stairs as I hit the bottom, breathing heavily. What the fuck did I just do? I took my time walking back to the venue, nobody giving me any trouble or even a dirty look for once. If anything, people seemed to go out of their way to avoid even looking at me. Which, after what had transpired previously, was welcomed. I sat down just as the 2 minute bell called out and the exhibition match was announced. This was going to be bloody. - As the lights dimmed, Alduin walked over to me, cape billowing behind her and a manic grin on her face as a cinderblock hand slapped my back and damn near winded me. “Sal! Glad I caught ya, loving the musical vibes you’ve been putting out there. SO much so, that I have a few… additions for ya. I mentioned to Madame Lockwood there n’ she said they were already on the device. Damned if I know how… technology ain’t one of my friends. But, if ya could play these during those ever so pivotal moments in the upcoming fight and during mine & Nora’s entrance, I’d be pretty damn grateful… Oh, speaking of: since I’m the one fighting, I’m gonna need ya to do the announcing. That won’t be a problem, will it?” Her eye flashed, and the eyepatch rumbled, the exhaustion of what transpired out there suddenly setting in, making me feel decidedly ordinary as I nodded. “You got it, Commissioner. Whatever you need.” I croaked, fumbling with my bag as everything spilled onto the table, Alduin laughing as she walked off. “That’s why I like ya, Sal. You just do it. You’re certainly a changed man! Ha!” She stretched as she sauntered off to get the microphone. I guess even warming up wouldn’t stop her from showmanship. I reached out for the locket when Nelle grabbed it first, as if she knew I shouldn’t touch it. Whisking up my notes with far quicker hands and placing it on the table, she thanked me before silently pointing to the recording material as the lights dimmed. “Fight fans, before we reach the conclusion of this night under the NFC banner, we have two very special matches for you. Our first is one forged in blood and spilled just as much. It’ll be a battle between Father and Son as the former attempts to help the latter see the error of his ways and perhaps seek a little justice for the lost lives here tonight. Without further ado, we throw it over to Commissioner Alduin Von Trier for the official introductions.” I pointed to Alduin, who grabbed the mic with gusto and began her spiel. “Without further do, let’s get this blood feud on the road! In the corner to my left: He is the Jersey Devil, our resident chef and the Father of violence… Put your hands together for Zunk!” I looked down at him. He was in a tank top with fighter shorts, his gargantuan frame only accentuated without the chef’s outfit and apron. His usually pleasant expression replace with a cold indifference as he stared a hole in the opposite direction. Towards his opponent. “And in the corner to my right: He was a standout fighter in this year’s tournament and one that brought us violence at the very start of the proceedings, so it’s only right we end with him. He was formally paired with his entourage, Mr. Stares, but he’s now back in his usual form; The Black Dog Of Jersey: Malphas!” She gave both an eager look before leaping out of dodge and to the safety of her perch as she walked off, understandably to train, but throwing her hand in the air and bellowing “BEGIN!” For the match to start. NFC EXHIBITION MATCH: “JERSEY DEVIL” ZUNKLE VS “PUPPET MASTER” MALPHAS Malphas, unchanged from the last time we saw him, took furtive steps forward, cocking his head to the side as he grinned, the nails in his lips now nothing more than bloodied holes which stained his teeth. “Well pops, we knew this was gonna happen at some point. To be the baddest, you have to take out the best and the weakest. You taught me that.” Zunk stood his ground, unflinching in his resolve and unwilling to move. “I didn’t teach you a damn thing. I tried to channel your anger and hatred into something productive. I thought you’d grow out of it.” He clenched his fist. “But you only got worse.” -THUMP- Without warning, Zunk struck himself square in the stomach with all his might, his eyes widening in pain and a wheeze leaving his lungs as Malphas continued to walk him down. “Well, you didn’t teach me directly… But I sought out info, determined to find out what was so WRONG with me. Until I was found, reborn, and told the most important piece of wisdom I’d ever get. Do you know what that was, Dad?” He twitched his fingers and Zunk pulled his head back, fingers pulling on the hair so tight it threatened to pull out thick black tufts. Malphas leaned forward, inches away from his father’s bloodied face. “The sins of the father will always impact on the son. But you can so easily reverse that, if you’re willing and open to doing what needs to be done.” He curled his hand; the fingers twisting and Zunk’s body doing as he obeyed. His arm volleying back for another unprotected shot at his face, but his head also being forced forward by the other hand in a macabre torture technique. “He’s using him as a goddamn punching bag… literally a human puppet. Is there anything he can do, Nelle?” I look over to her, the book is closed, and she’s resting her elbows on it, hands clasped and over her mouth. “Not if he wants to keep what little of his soul he has left, Sal.” She replied, as if speaking from experience. I felt a lump in my throat as I looked back, Malphas laughing giddily at the prolonged beating his Father was sustaining. “Marvellous, now let’s try taking out that tongue, no more bullshit spewed from your mouth!” He clapped his hands, observing the battered father figure and framing him like he’d done with Rex. “Hmm… or maybe we should just take the head entirely? Hard to say when you’re having so much fun!”“There’s really no hope for you, is there, boy? If I brought you back to your Mother… what would she think of you now?” Zunk called through gritted teeth and smatterings of blood. Malphas just laughed. “She’d probably wonder how she came back to life and why she’s nothing more than a bag of bones! Still, better than being a sack of meat, right? I’d have probably had to cut her up too. So safety the or-“ A punch flew from Zunk that instead of hitting his own face would connect with the stomach of his son. The force of which sent him flying back, feet dragging through the pit floor and dropping him to his knees. “Hey, Sal. There’s a song of mine on there, think you could do me a solid and uhh… y’know? Oh and don’t put it on an odd number.” He didn’t even look at me, instead muttering the prime numbers in quick succession under his breath. Sure enough, I scrolled down and saw a single song under his name. It simply said; “Blizzard.” The deep bass rang out and Zunk cracked his neck as he walked towards Malphas. Who, to his credit, was up to one knee and one hand on his stomach, the other twisting in front of him. Again, Zunk saw resistance, his right arm striking at him repeatedly and smashing his ears, jaw and nose. But each shot just made him more determined to walk forward, spitting out blood on the fourth punch. Malphas backs off and places his hands and legs against the wall, a cornered and frightened animal as Zunk walks him down, determined. “You always thought The Jersey Devil was some goat-like creature of the night, didn’t you? I never told you that it was always just me… a part of me that I kept firmly locked away and promised to never touch again when I met your mother. After we had you, bad people came after me. Very, very bad people. They got to her while I was away, made you watch what they did to her. Christ, you were four…” Zunk stopped in front of his son, pity across his face. “I went after them, did what any husband and father would do, but worse… Still, you changed so much after that. But I believe there’s still hope for you. Some glimmer of what your mother was in there. You just need to take my hand and we can put this behind us, a few broken teeth, and some fractured ribs are nothing to a family like ours.” He outstretched his hand and Nelle shook her head in dismay. Malphas stretched his own out and for a moment, I thought we’d see our first good ending to a bout. To my horror and disgust, I was wrong. Malphas leaned forward and sank his teeth into Zunk’s hand, biting at the fingers until he tore off one of the digits at the mid-point, the blood spraying across his face and the canvas. He spat the finger out and coated his hand in it, giggling as he crawled along the wall and away from Zunk. “There is only ONE family and it sure as hell isn’t yours. With your blood on MY hands, I can show you just how good I am at control. As I did with Zanaya, Rex and the rest. I am DAMN good at carrying out my master’s will, and as long as I get to carve people up, I’ll keep on doing it!” He held his hand up and Zunk’s face grew vacant, his mouth hung open and he bore the same expression the others had done before him. This was the prelude to the end. “I can’t believe this. Of all the sick things I’ve seen in this tournament, biting the literal hand that feeds has got to be one of the worst! Malphas should be ashamed, but given his prior antics, I don’t think that’s possible! Get up, Zunk! Move for god’s sake!” I pleaded, my hands shaking, and the fear of losing someone else with no means to save them filled me with such dread, but there was nothing I could do. Nelle didn’t move from her analytical stance and the crowd bayed for blood as the techno music swelled. Malphas walked over with confidence, pulling a weapon from his back and brandishing it playfully as he got closer. He showed no hesitation as he drove the blade deep into Zunk’s chest, dark blood running down his torso to the delight of his son. “Guess blood ties do run deep, huh?” He looked at the trail and laughed. “Best of luck, dad. I’ll keep your legacy going and improve on it!” He patted the shoulder of his still standing but vacant father as he began to walk back, never seeing the surging knee coming for his temple as he turned. Malphas flew through the air and crumpled into a heap on the ground as Zunk lowered his leg, sadness and disappointment riddled across his face. Malphas tried to scramble, but Zunk was quick. He picked him up by the head, his gargantuan hands cupping the younger man in them as if holding a coconut. He slammed him down once to pacify him before hurling him towards the centre of the pit, no longer able to crawl away. Every step Zunk took bore the weight of what he was about to do, echoing the gravity of the words when he spoke: “As of late, you’ve been doing terrible things. Things I cannot forgive, forget or ignore.” “Please… dad, I’m sorry! I’ll… I’ll leave the services of my masters... of the order and I’ll stop what I’m doing… I’ll change. I swear! Oh god… please, help! I deserve better, I did what was asked of me! Are ANY of you gonna help me?!” He snivelled and darted frantic eyes around the venue, but none would intervene as his father honed in like a lion ready to make the kill. “There is no other avenue left for you, Malphas. But, let me offer you one final piece of fatherly advice…” Zunk raises his fist, his entire body twisting back with the force he’s generating and his eyes glowing like that of the Jersey Devil he is synonymous for. Malphas’ whimpering a mere backdrop to the swelling beat and his father’s chilling final words. “Leaving this world is not as scary as it seems.” With that, he drove the fist down onto Malphas’ face with such force that the venue shook. When the dust cleared, there was a divot left where Malphas’ head resided, the decapitation marks on his neck clear as day, something resembling scorch marks across the neck lining as Zunk raised his bloodied fist from the hole and walked back without a single word. It was over. I looked at the broken body of a man who had spent this entire tournament dismantling the enemy, pulling their strings and making sure at least three families were torn apart by his insatiable lust for destruction. But my mind wasn’t on that, nor was it on what was going through the mind of a man who had just rekindled the flame of his old violent moniker to take out his son. Hell, for a moment, it wasn’t even on the upcoming title fight that would determine everything. It was on what he said in those final moments of bravado that stuck with me. The claims of pulling the strings, making sure everything went to plan for his “masters”. But before I could ask Nelle what she thought, I was handed a slip of paper that contained the details for the bout. Standard things like the fighters names, monikers and the match stipulations. There were two things on that slip of paper that caused me to break out in a sweat and my heart to jump into my throat and stay there. Just two simple sentences changed my world and raised the stakes of the title fight exponentially so. The match type? 3 Stages of Hell. First to 2 victories wins the belt. The names? NFC Champion Von Trier and Sabotta. Nora Sabotta.
I’m a commentator for a tournament of nightmares. I’m not sure the participants are willing.
You’d think being a psychiatric ward for 38 months would be enough to deter a guy from ever going back to a sport that involves watching human beings at the height of their physical prowess beat the living shit out of each other. Sometimes regulated, sometimes not. But, here I am, fresh outta the loony bin and reading the most unusual advertising slogan I’d ever laid eyes on; “The most terrifying tournament has come around once again! Conquer your fears in theNFC*…* literally.” This was the business card that accompanied my black envelope as it was handed to me on the discharge ward by a well dressed and gangly fella with an uncomfortable wide smile. He didn’t say much of anything, just that his name was “Watson” before bowing and holding up the envelope. “Heh, like the butler, right?” I said, taking the envelope from his plasticine hands. His smile ripples across his face and he nods slowly, his perfect hair unmoving in the strong wind before he turns on his heel and walks back to the black sedan. The cold air chilled my bones, and I pulled the medical bracelet from my wrist, grimacing at the marks underneath before following Watson to the Sedan and hauling my luggage into the trunk before setting off, not knowing how I came to even be there in the first place. I guess right now, that doesn’t really matter. What matters is where I am now and what I’m doing. "blood strewn across the canvas, frayed brain matter sailing across my head and splattering against the wall, a woman standing in a pool of blood as the deformed creature twitches on the ground" My name is Sal “Motormouth” Sabotta, I’m a sports commentator by trade. Be it combat sports, pro wrestling, death-matches or martial arts tournament, I’ve done it all. I won’t lie; Work can be hard to come by. I’ve spent months struggling for rent and resorting to less tried-and-true commentary methods in order to survive. That has, at times, involved trying my hand at some of the more underground competitions; unregulated fights, sick, illegal games bet on by people on the dark web and worse… Things I’m not going to detail here. Things I’m not proud to have taken a hefty pay-check for from greasy, sweaty fucks in Armani tracksuits and stinking of cheap booze and coke all the way up to well-dressed bitcoin farmers in their 20s who probably own child slaves. In short, I’m no stranger to the grim underworld or the secrecies with which they conduct their work. I see money and an easy way to make it with my voice; I don’t ask questions. So when I received an email the day of my discharge from the hospital and I’m told “you’ll receive a letter from Mr. Watson, take it and follow the instructions to the venue. Pay up front as agreed.”, I don’t question it. Especially when the note is personalised, and the doctor says my medical fees were covered. We drove past numerous landscapes, vistas and neighbourhoods before veering off into an industrial estate and entering an underground tunnel. Half a mile in, Watson stops the car and peers back, smiling. He directs a thumb to the service door in the side tunnel and rubs his neck, a scar running from ear to ear. Was he a former fighter? Gangster? I sighed and got out, still in my medical gown and hauling ass to the door. It opened before I could reach out and a tall, muscular woman in her late 30s greeted me with a smile. She was imposing, powerful in her gait, a black eyepatch with several seals adorning the sides accompanying a thick scar down her face did nothing to stop her beauty. She wore a tank top with a black cloak with white fur on the tops and sleeves, a thick black chain clasp around the neck. I won’t lie; she looked badass. Terrifying, but badass. “‘Bout time ya showed up, Sabotta!” She grinned and put a cinderblock of a hand on my shoulder. I’m 5’10 and 180lbs, but she made me feel like a child in front of her. The power emanating from her fist was unbelievable. “C’mon, the trial match is starting and I don’t want no tourney without a broken in commentator! You gotta know the ropes of this place!” “You know your driver was standing right outside when I was discharged, right? Couldn’t think to give me an extra day or two to freshen up?” I frowned. This wasn’t normal protocol, even for back-alley promotions like this. She just laughed at me and slapped my shoulder. “The tournament waits for nobody, Sal. Times a-wasting.” The hallway is dimly lit and the sounds of a ruckus above us are as impossible to ignore as the sounds of thudding, screaming and snapping. As we pass several doors with one-way mirrors on the front panes, I hear sounds I could have never placed in the animal kingdom or otherwise; gurgles, clicks, grunts and even otherworldly whispers. “What the fuck is that? You guys doing animal fights down here? I mean I called a monkey fight once, but it’s not exactly… pleasant.” I shuddered, thinking of the violence chimpanzees can inflict on one another, let alone humans. She never stopped walking or staring directly ahead when she responded.“Those ain’t animals. Not by a long shot.” Before I can probe further, I’m hurried into a changing room and practically swept off my feet by her strength. I turn back and she’s already poking her head out the door. “You’ve got 5 minutes, get your shit and head up the left stairs, Watson will guide you.” She grinned, and I saw gold filings in her teeth that glinted as much as her bedazzled eye patch. “Ya came highly recommended… I expect good things!” I do as instructed and within 5 minutes I’m back in my commentary clothes; an open buttoned Hawaiian shirt with my old Hotel Inertia shirt underneath, skinny black jeans and shimmering black shoes. I found some old slick gorilla powder in my hair and dusted it up, opting for the dishevelled look as I knew I’d be sweating by the end of the ordeal. “You shouldn’t bother putting in so much effort, y’know. They’re not gonna care how good you look, only how well you talk.” Standing in the doorway was a woman in her 40s, dark-skinned and hair clad in meticulous dreadlocks, tied back into a large bun with a pair draped down the sides of her head. She held a thick book in one hand and pocketed a serrated blade in the other before motioning to me. “We’ll have to do the pleasantries on the way, the match is starting and you don’t wanna miss that. The commissioner isn’t the type you want to upset. Especially when you’re not here by choice.” I looked for a moment, dumbfounded. “I’m here because I was invited, already got my pay from the woman who let me in.” I shrugged, pocketing the envelope and getting my equipment from the suitcase. The woman gave a sad smile and shook her head. “Of course you’d think that. She likes it that way. Bet she didn’t introduce herself either, did she? C’mon.” I follow her down and after a few minutes we come to a fork in the hallway, an elevator system to our right and a stairway to the left. Dutifully, Watson stood patiently, still grinning and motioning us to go up. Once we’re situated in our booth upstairs, I set my equipment up and look down at the table, expecting a slew of papers and fighter information in front of me. I look to the woman to ask, but she doesn’t break her stare in the darkness, looking down at the arena floor some 100ft below us.“You won’t need that. Not for this match.” The lights flicker on and the enormity of this venue reveals itself to me. It’s a structure of imposing steel, dried blood, claw marks and other unknown substances that littered the 40ft wide circular pit the fighters contested in, a black lift on either side from the fighters corners that I can only assume ascended up from their locker room area. Around them were chain-link fences that rose up to the audience stands above, situating around 300 people across all four sides. At the very top sat our booth, the commissioner’s office directly opposite, the judges booth to our right and the fight analysts/medical area to our left. Standing in the centre with a spotlight over them was the commissioner, microphone in hand and an energy that was almost palpable. “Ladies, Gentlemen and Freaks of all kinds out there in the universe. I welcome you once more to the annual Nightmare Fighting Championship Tournament! It’s been a long year, but we have new blood to pit against our resident night terrors and some fresh fears to feast on the fortuitous soul that frolics into their den. As always, our contestants will be fighting for their freedom, a chance to get their wish or to fight for the ultimate prize.” The crowd cheers and the majority are hidden behind thick plexiglass and lighting, but I can see some have Karate Gi’s, weapons in hand and others with demon masks as they whoop and holler. The clientele here were, at least in my estimation, experienced. But I was feeling a lump in my throat at that one phrase The Commissioner so surreptitiously added in without issue; “As always, our contestants will befightingfor theirfreedom*”* I leaned to the woman next to me and as if she knew what I was going to ask; she put a finger up and shook her head. Eyes awash with fear and a grimness I had only seen on that of trainers who knew their fighter was not ready for the bout ahead. She pointed the finger down to my machine, then to the pit. Turning it on, I looked down as the commissioner began to talk, readying myself to commentate on whatever weirdos came up to battle. “But before we get to that, we have an exciting exhibition match for our loyal supporters who bankroll this event every year. Without you elite few, we could not do this. You are the pound for pound goats of support! Now, without further ado; let’s get this show on the road!”The rest of the lights clicked on and spun around the venue as they raised the profile of the bout, the elevators both whirring into action as the right one arose first. “In this corner, from the marionettes shop and accompanied by his Bunraku doll “Mr. Stares”, it’s the man who pulls the strings… THE PUPPET MAN!” Out steps a tall, thin Japanese man in full clown makeup. His head shaven save for two ridiculous strands of hair stretched out and fluffed up to their limits, like red antennae. His eyebrows large m’s that practically cover his forehead, the nose a completely vacant slot with a black hole drawn in and the mouth… the fucking mouth was nailed shut. Literally. Sharp rusted nails had been hammered down through the lips with such force that they’d bent. A sickening crimson red face-paint stretched across the entire bottom half of his face, making it seem far larger by comparison. He carefully held a small bundle underneath a sheet and bowed deeply to the audience before standing at his designated spot. “In the other corner, from the streets of god knows where and the womb of someone who misses him… "Hulked Up" Michael O’Donnell!” I watched with wide eyes and a stomach threatening to evacuate its contents at any moment as the smoke cleared and a boy no older than 17 rushed out, beating his chest and screaming to the crowd as if he was the Incredible Hulk. I don’t know if they drugged the poor kid, but he clearly had no idea where he was. “There are no rules, no referees and judges only exist in case of a draw or unclear victory. Our commentary team will take over and we wish you a phenomenal match.” She drools a little before she speaks again, looking up at me and winking. “Let’s make this a violent one.” She snaps her fingers and leaps for the fence, climbing up with ungodly ease before sitting on her makeshift chair in her office. I have no idea what I’m seeing but every cell in my body is urging me to run; I feel my knees tense and my frame rise ever so slightly before the woman next to me puts her hand on my thigh, pushing me down with great force. “You have a job to do, so do I. Trust me, you think you can leave but if you get out of this chair, not only will YOUR life end. Mine will too.” She unsheathes the serrated blade and looks at me with pity. “We both have a part to play here, so put the headset on and let’s do our job, no matter how hard it is.” Hands shaking, I pick up the headset and connect it to the portable recorder and take a breath. “I… I need your name. What is it you do?” I stutter, trying to calm myself. She hands me a bottle of water as the surrounding lights dim and the spotlight focuses on the spectacle below. “I’m Madame Nelle Lockwood, cryptid hunter and your co-host to guide you through tonight. Good to meet you, Sal.” - NFC EXHIBITION MATCH: "Hulked Up" Michael O’Donnell vs The Puppet Man w/ Mr. Stares “Welcome fight fans from around the world, god knows how you’re listening to this or WHY, but here we are. I’m your host Sal “MotorMouth” Sabotta, wishing this was all a bad dream. Joining me this evening is our cryptid specialist and all round badass Madame Nelle Lockwood. How are you doing, Nelle?” She looks at me with a bewildered look on her face before blinking and coming to her senses. “Uhh… good! All things considered… boy, you really have a professional knack for this, huh? I can see why Commissioner Alduin brought you in." “Ahh, yes. That’s right, folks! NFC Commissioner Alduin invited me here personally and our exhibition match proves to be… challenging. Let’s check in on the action below.” I look down and see The Puppet Man sat down and gesturing to the figure under the sheet, like he’s got a negotiation going on. The boy, undeterred and furious, rushes towards him and takes his back, slapping his head and even pulling on his hair with extreme prejudice. “Well take a gander at that, that kid has absolutely NO fear. When I was his age, I would have stayed FAR the fuck away from a nightmare spectre like that. But hell, this is all part of the show, right? Hope they’re paying that poor guy down there a sizeable sum to throw a fight to a child. What do you think, Nelle; is this the weirdest make-a-wish fulfilment task or what?” I look over to her, hoping she’d indulge me and that I could believe this was just going to end with a pissed off actor storming away when the child hit him too hard. But Nelle was scanning her now open book and looking for information on dolls. “He’s talking to his doll because it’s desperate to be let loose. He’s trying to bargain with it to spare him. This is the nature of the puppeteer and his master.” She pushes the book to the centre of the table and shows me a faded illustration of a pristine Bunraku doll; a kind of meticulously crafted Japanese take on the ventriloquist doll. The limbs are thinner and the face is more minimalist, but still no more frightening. “They usually have a symbiotic relationship, but it seems this one obeys the doll and will not want to face more punishment.” “What do you mean more punishment?” I ask, looking back down at the feverish puppet man as he tries signing frantically under the sheet, even putting his head under as the kid bites his arm and kicks him, screeching. “The nails, Sal. Those aren’t to silence him, they’re to punish him.” The rest happened in slow motion; the sheet fell down. The puppet man stood up and walked to his side of the fighters corner, facing the elevator and placing his face into his forearms as he shook. The boy followed to keep attacking, but with one swift kick to the midsection, the boy was propelled back to the centre of the pit where the doll sat. If there was a human face, I didn’t see it. Instead, I was staring down at a small wood carved spider, the head sporting black geisha hair and the makeup still present, but rows of sharpened black teeth protruded from the clicking mouth and two larger eyes jutted out from the base of the skull, smaller ones dotted closely around it. It was like seeing a puppet ogre spider. “Looks like The Puppet Man has let Mr. Stares out to say hi and I can certainly see why he was under that sheet, this one isn’t pretty folks! The face doth fit the name. The question is, what’s he doing to do ne- “I didn’t need to finish the question. My hands shook, and the world spun around me as this creature crawled towards the still wheezing boy with ungodly speed and perched itself expertly beside him. I don’t know if it was my eyes or the distance from where I sat, but this was NOT a small puppet. He was easily half of the boy’s height and that became more unnerving when he reared up on his back legs, the head clicking up and the raspy voice hissing out like a gas leak in a building. “Hey, hey, kid! Wanna make a deal?” The kid rubbed his eyes, seemingly realising where he was as he calmed down and an air of utter confusion around him. “If you let me be your new master and you promise to take care of me, I’ll let you go!” His head spun around and the jaw clicked ferociously as he giggled, extending out a clawed paw. “Whaddya say?” The boy, still confused, slowly reached out his hand and the moment immediately reminded me of a slew of nature shows I’d seen as a kid; where a predator waits until the prey is lulled before striking. I felt the chill up my spine as he extended his hand and grabbed Mr. Stares. In that moment, he leapt up the arm and bore his way into the boy’s mouth, down his throat and shredded his flesh. The sound was so horrifying, so visceral that it outshines any backyard stabbing, joint snap or broken nose. The boy didn’t even have time to scream, he simply looked up with tear-stained eyes as the puppet disappeared. Then he started walking without him realising. He looked down at his limbs, terrified, looked over at The Puppet Master, who still had his head to the elevator and pleaded with someone, anyone to help him. I looked to Nelle who refused to take her eyes away, studying the battle in an almost morbid scientific curiosity, detached entirely from the scenario. I couldn’t fathom how she did it, how she ignored this boy begging us to get him out of there. I wanted to. Every instinct in me as a fight fan and a decent human was to scream “STOP THE FIGHT!”. But clearly, when my own life is at risk and money is involved... I am not a decent human. Instead, with bile in my throat and a sweating forehead, I did my job. “M-My goodness! The P-uppet, I mean, “Mr. Stares” has BECAME the puppet master, surely the fight will be over with our young competitor incapacitated? What does our commissioner have to say about this?” She stared at me, her one eye gleaming and her face elated with the violence. “It ain’t over yet, church boy. We haven’t even seen the finale, have we Puppet Master?!” She laughs and slaps her knee, the puppet master sobbing as he sinks to the floor and she continues. “He ain’t done feeding, not yet.” The way she said that word “feeding” nearly made me lose what food I had in me. That was a young man, somebody's baby boy… “What does she mean by that, Nelle? What is the strategy to victory here?” Nelle looked down at her book and traced her finger across a passage before wiping her forehead and pushing the locks aside. If her composure wasn’t breaking yet, it would do soon. “This kind of parasitic doll feasts on its prey and targets non-essential organs first, controls the host with the neurotoxin in its tail and then, when it’s finally content, it gives the brain a second injection.” “What happens then?” I asked, my own professionalism hanging on by a fucking thread at this point. She shook her head and pinched the bridge of her nose.“I guess you’ll see in a moment, I sure as hell don’t want to. Not again.” Before I can prompt her further, the boy lets out an ear-piercing shriek and falls to his knees, gripping at his head before it turned red, then purple and finally an ugly shade of puce before… The sound of a watermelon hitting the ground from a great height is the best comparison you’re going to get without making me want to rush to the toilet to puke for a third time. But that’s what happened. His head burst and chunks of his skull, flesh and brain matter sprayed the pit and the walls, some hitting my desk and making me audibly shriek, much to the commissioner's delight. “HA! You didn’t run! I like you, Sal. You pass for the tournament!” She hauls her body up and slams down to the pit, applauding as the microphone descends from the heavens. “And your winner; The Puppet Man and Mr. Stares!” The crowd erupts with applause as the weeping puppet man pulls the blood-soaked puppet out, places him under the sheet and silently begins to walk back to the elevator while attendees clear up the boy’s corpse. “What… what the fuck IS this place?” I ask Nelle, pausing my recording. “This is where nightmares are kept and set upon mostly unwilling competitors for the world’s amusement. You HAVE done dark web fights before, right? Mafia snitches being put into lions pits, bum fights, addicts fighting women to score… this can’t be THAT unusual to you?” I stared at her incredulously. Was that even a question? “I did the dark web ONCE and it damn sure didn’t involve monsters!” She scoffs and closes her book, stretching before looking at me with contempt. “Oh, it did. Just not the ones you hear about in fairytales. Good luck with the selection process. I’ll be back for the opening round. Don’t try to run, they’ll devour us both in minutes, if you think this is the pinnacle of what lurks beneath this club, you're in for a rough night.” She sauntered off, leaving me deflated, sickened and terrified. Unable to leave and frustrated to the point of tears that I couldn’t express that concoction of emotions, I did what I always do; I regressed and pressed “record” on the device as Commissioner Alduin continued. At that moment, however, I was deaf to it all. The gravity of the situation had fully enveloped me… They weren’t kidding about the unwilling participants, I just didn’t realise I would be one of them.On every side of me sits men and women with a desire for violence that goes beyond the norm, beyond the sane and beyond the boundaries of humanity.Below me are an untold number of creatures rattling their cages and howling for blood. Across from me is a woman so powerful she could crush my skull beneath her boot with the utmost ease if it so amused her. That invitation was nothing more than my own ransom note in pretty colours and flattering platitudes. I was in a tournament housing nightmares incarnate. And it would only get more violent from here on out. - The opening round was a blood bath.
NFL Showdown Breakdown (Cincy vs. Cleveland) from CheatSheetPros!
Article Link with screen shot: https://www.cheatsheetpros.com/post/thursday-night-showdown NFL Breakdown from CheatSheetPros! GAME BREAKDOWN: We have two banged up teams facing each other and hopefully we can get a higher scoring game. CLE is missing two starting CBs and CIN is missing a couple of their interior defensive linemen. Through the first week both teams rank 12th and 13th in pace playing just a few plays per game over league average. The teams are also 23rd and 20th in first downs per game at 19 and 20 while the league average through 1 week of the season is 22.7. CLE had a horrible matchup vs. BAL last week where they got demolished 38-6 by Lamar Jackson & company. Nick Chubb didn’t play the 4th quarter and that is where 50% of the touches from Hunt came from. OBJ had a solid 10 targets but only caught 3 of them for 22 yards. CIN played the Chargers with Tyrod Taylor under center and lost a tight came 16-13. Joe Burrow tossed for 193 yards and 0 TDs but rushed for 46 and a score saving his fantasy day. Mixon took 19 carries and Gio only had 1. A.J. Green led the team in targets with 9 and caught 5 for 51 yards and then Boyd / Uzomah and Gio were all tied at 5 targets and 4 catches. CIN pass defense did well keeping Taylor to 16 of 30 for 208 yards and no TDs but they were crushed on the ground. They gave up 84 yards on 19 carries to Ekeler (4.4 ypc) and another 60 yards on 12 carries (5.0 ypc) to Kelley. PLAYERS TO CONSIDER: NICK CHUBB – CINCY is going to be without Geno Atkins tonight and they gave up 155 rushing yards last week. Chubb didn’t play any 4Q snaps last week and this is a chance for him to come out hot. Look for 100+ yards and a TD! A.J. GREEN / TYLER BOYD – I love both of these guys tonight and they are both in all my showdown lineups. CLE is missing 2 starting CBs and they were one of the worst teams at covering the short pass. This is great for Tyler Boyd! CLE gave up a whopping 270 yards in the air last week in a tough matchup. Tyler Boyd was covered by Chris Harris last week who is a phenomenal CB and tonight he will get a rotation of back up corners and hopefully go nuts! JOE BURROW – I like the WRs for CIN so looking at the QB is a no brainer. He also gives you rushing upside with his legs and is great for the captain spot. ODELL BECKHAM JR – He got a whopping 10 targets last week and is disgruntled with his QB. Hopefully he can do something more with those targets tonight. CIN wasn’t strong at covering the deep ball and this is where OBJ could strive! AUSTIN HOOPER – No David Njoku tonight so Hooper should grab a few more looks. The rumor was Baker to Hooper was an excellent hookup in camp especially in the red zone. HARRISON BRYANT – He is replacing Njoku and only $200 on DK so if you are looking for a punt play he may just be the guy. SPORTS BETTING PICK: CINCY +6 over CLEVELAND Thanks for reading, Haze
Part 1|Previous|Next Drac drove to the Fairmount in Millenium park as soon as the demon lords exchanged their brief, awkward goodbyes. He gave his car to the valet and continued to his hotel room, holding onto his phone, trying to escape the thought of Miranda. He messaged Abby: Let's get a drink here at the Fairmount if you have time tonight. Drac was surprised at himself, he usually would have spent the evening in his room or driven back to Indianapolis, but at that moment, he needed something different. His phone buzzed a few moments later. I'll be there at midnight, Abby replied, only a half-hour away. *** Drac went up the elevator after he sent the text, sitting at the bar, practically in a glass case, perched over downtown Chicago. The crowd was well-dressed, even though it was midnight, it was at half-capacity. Enough room noise to still have a quiet conversation. He brooded as he took periodic sips from his whiskey, sitting three seats away from the closest person. Drac noticed he was the only one at the bar sitting so isolated. As soon as the clock struck midnight, Drac spotted Abby strolling in. She stopped for a moment to gaze out into the lit-up concrete jungle from the glass wall. She looked over at him and smiled. "Hey, I'm glad you texted me," Abby stood next to Drac. "How did the rest of the evening go?" Drac asked. "I don't even know where to begin, I don't even know if you want to hear about all of it." "Did Marcia spew some venom my way?" "Of course she did. She thinks you did something to Fenny." "And do you believe her?" "No, why would you even ask me that?" Abby made eyes with the bartender and ordered a glass of wine. "What if I told you there was a situation where I did take care of Fenny?" Drac stared down at his drink. "Seeing how that's a serious offense in the demon code, I imagine you must've had some good reason for it," Abby lifted an eyebrow. "So it's true?" Drac was silent for a long minute. "It seemed like the only thing that made sense. I was more mature than Fenny. We were on the cusp of war, and Fenny was willing to draw first blood without any foresight." Abby slid down in the chair and leaned her head closer. "He was mishandling a delicate manner that was going to cost so many demon lives, all of Indie could've ended," Drac looked up at Abby. "And you're the only person I've told." The bartender delivered Abby's wine glass and retreated back to the other side. "Sorry, don't take my silence in a wrong way, I'm just not sure how to respond," Abby said. "It's okay, I probably shouldn't have told you in the first place, but," Drac choked on his words. "I had to tell someone outside my circle, and I didn't want to lie to you." "Don't worry, I'm not gonna say a word to anyone." "I guess it doesn't matter much, does it?" Drac took a drink and paused. "Important enough people already think I'm responsible." Abby shrugged. "It doesn't matter much if you're happy in Indianapolis and don't care to intermingle with the others." "I'm actually considering helping Marcia out with this." Abby's eyes widened. "You're just full of surprises tonight, are you sure you want to do that? You should hear this," Abby recounted everything that happened with the rest of the meeting, highlighting Tyrannus' appearance. Drac pretended to react as if he had heard it all for the first time. "Even with that in mind, I'm still leaning towards it," Drac said. "Are you serious?" Abby asked. "You're going to have Tyrannus and this trio of demon hunters to deal with too. To me, it sounds like a suicide mission." "Maybe. I don't know, I have a lot to think about," Drac gazed down at the bottom of his glass. "I can't stand Tyrannus, so it could be a two for one deal with the opportunity to take over Chicago." "Holy hell, you're really considering doing this? Those are some hefty dominoes that would need to fall." "Would you help me? Would you be interested in working together?" Drac asked. "I could use some extra muscle if I decide to do this." "It's a lot to think about. I'll have to give you an answer later, maybe when you're feeling closer to confirmation about all of this." "I understand." "We didn't talk about this at the meeting, but I know how the third demon knight was dusted. I think it might be important to hear before you agree to take on this mission..." *** Octavian was one of the wealthier five demon knights, he owned a potato chip company that produced bags for the Chicago area and some supermarkets outside the city. He was in his top-floor highrise penthouse on the night it occurred. Octavian hosted Tyrannus and a grunt named Charles. The three of them were sitting around, mostly talking about sports and betting on games they felt were sure-fire locks for the following week. After a few hours of some drinks and some blood, Tyrannus said, "So Charles, I hear you're a pretty good fighter." "I don't know about all that," Charles smiled, but it disappeared in a second. "He's modest, best combatant I have," Octavian raised his goblet of blood towards Charles and took a sip. "Let's see what you've got," Tyrannus jumped off the couch and squared up with Charles. "Oh come on, let's not do this right now, I don't want to disrespect Octavian," Charles waved his hand. "It's no disrespect, a little sparring would be interesting. The most talented physical demon knight sparring with an up-and-coming grunt who's shown some flashes of brilliance." "Really? Are we doing this?" Charles glanced at Octavian and Tyrannus. "It'll be fun!" Tyrannus sinisterly grinned. Charles sighed, put down his glass of blood (that he provided), and stood at the center of the wide-open living room within arms reach of Tyrannus. Octavian grinned ahead. "Go easy on him now, Tyrannus." Charles couldn't have looked more disinterested as Tyrannus was bouncing at the tips of his toes with his fists ready to defend or strike. Tyrannus took the first jab at his chest. Charles returned a few light punches of his own, but Tyrannus either sidestepped or blocked them entirely. "Not bad, not bad," Tyrannus said. They exchanged a quick flurry of strikes, and in the end, Charles swiped the edge of Tyler's chin. "Goddammit!" Tyler screamed. "You can't aim for the face, what the hell is the matter with you?" "Sorry, it was an accident, I swear," Charles took a few steps back. "Octavian, what the fuck is the matter with your lackey here?" "Calm down, Tyler, it was an accident," Octavian stated firmly. "He said he was sorry, he didn't want to exchange jabs with you, as far as I can tell, you brought this on yourself." "Fuck you," Tyler snarled. "Look, I'm really sorry," Charles said. "I know," Tyrannus showed all of his fangs with a haunting smile. "I know of a way we can remedy all of this up, come here, Charles, don't be shy, take a few steps closer to me." Charles took a deep breath and stepped closer to Tyler. Like a lightning strike, Tyler blasted Charles in the face with a haymaker that echoed off the penthouse walls. "What the hell!" Octavian screeched. "What did you do that for?" he jogged up to Charles's side and knelt down next to him. "I'm going to take off, you boys have a nice night," Tyler chuckled as he exited the penthouse. "That sunnuva bitch," Charles coughed, rubbing the side of his face, which had a gash that was crying tears of red. "It's all right, why don't you go to the bathroom and clean yourself up, I'm going to smoke a cigarette on the balcony," Octavian said, lending his hand to pick up Charles. "Thanks, I'll only be a second, and I'll probably head out of here unless you'd feel more comfortable if I stayed?" "That's okay, I'm fine. You don't have to stay," Octavian gave an uncertain smile. "You sure? Even with everything that's been happening?" "Yes, I'm sure. I sleep alone every day of the week and I'm fine." "But the attacks happened on Friday nights, one month apart. It's been-" "Yes, I'm aware. If these hunters really are that committed to bringing us down, I'm sure they're changing their ways to not be so predictable." Charles nodded and continued towards the bathroom. Octavian opened up the balcony door and stood outside, high above the streets of Chicago, he gazed out at the field of skyscrapers, lighting up a cigarette. In the bathroom, Charles cleaned up his cut with some water. He heard some bangings against the glass wall of the balcony. Charles pressed his ear up against the wall, the thuds continued a few more seconds before they stopped. With a burst of adrenaline, his horns and purple eyes appeared. He threw open the bathroom door, sprinted down the hall, and came up to the exit, but took one glance behind him at the balcony. Octavian was beaten to a pulp covered with narrow trails of dark red as his face was pressed against the glass. Three cloaked figures towered over Octavian as he lay on the ground. One of them yanked out a dark bladed dagger, and that's when Charles dashed out the exit... *** "They're not even safe in their homes," Abby said. "Hell, I'm a little nervous about staying here tonight. The demon hunters seem to be two steps ahead in Chicago." "Tyrannus, and what's their other knight's name? I think it's Adonis, right? Those are the only two that are left?" Drac asked. Abby nodded. "I wouldn't worry about it. If these hunters are taking someone down month by month, payment is due soon for March. I'd put my money on Adonis or Tyrannus. Not you." "I would say let's help and protect them, but I don't care for Tyrannus." Drac turned to her and smiled. "I'm glad you feel the same." "What if I said I wanted to stay with you tonight, in case these hunters want us instead?" "I'm okay with that. Kind of like old times?" Drac exhaled a single, quiet laugh. "Something like that," Abby smiled. I'm on Patreon. You can get the next three chapters by becoming a patron for $3! Thank you for your support, even if you're following on Reddit, I love seeing your comments! I plan on releasing a chapter a week. You also get advance three-chapter access to my other story, An American in Hogwarts too (a Harry Potter fanfic people have really enjoyed An American in Hogwarts). And consider adding your email to my email list where I announce book releases! You'll get cool 'R'-wing flair if you do! :)
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