“Now you’re going to see a real fight,” Rakim told Klein on their way to their seats as they saw the next contestants on their way to take their place in the ring. But what did a real fight look like?
The otter climbed up on the rope, using it like a springboard as his feet bounced on it to perform an effortless corkscrew dive into the ring as if it were a pool, rolling up to his feet from it with an expression of perfect serenity on his face. On the opposite side, the rabbit, impeccable in her top hat and bowtie, casually hopped in place on the ground once or twice to build up to her great big leap right over the ropes in the ring, as if gravity didn’t even exist for her.
“You know them?” the skunk asked. She meticulously dusted herself off as she stood up from her landing crouch without taking her eyes off the otter, piercing, cynical eyes which looked like they’d seen just about everything. “I’ve heard of him. I don’t know her, but he’s going to give her a run for her money,” the bat answered.
Without the immediate concern of having to fixate his attention on the opponent who was right in front of him, the skunk noticed a short, scruffy-looking rat sitting in a seat near them who was watching the scene intently. She was furiously scribbling in a notebook that she’d brought with her with a look of utmost concentration on her face, as if desperate not to miss anything. He wondered what the reason for her presence there could’ve been.
Was she a journalist, some kind of social researcher...? Or had she actually signed up for the tournament, and was studying the contenders’ moves for further reference? She seemed so unassuming, he thought. But it was no longer time for idle speculation – when the bell rang, his eyes returned to the ring, leaving other considerations aside for until the fight would be over.
“Look at them,” the rabbit told the otter while eyeing the crowd around them with her arms crossed. “Completely absorbed in the spectacle of the performance of the animals that we are,” she continued with what, to the ear of the otter, sounded like barely contained scorn in her voice. “We’re all that exist to them now. For them, right now, there is no outside-ring,” she added, half-uncrossing her arms so her forearms formed an X in front of her, looking at her opponent through the inverted triangle between her hands as if it were a targeting visor.
“Are they your opponent, or am I?” the otter asked the rabbit bemusedly, not sure what to make of the discourse of animality that she was disseminating. Not only did he like to bring his psychological training to the ring insofar as it helped him figure out the way his opponents’ minds worked, he also liked to bring some of the things he learned about the ways people’s minds worked in the ring back to his counseling office where they often served him every bit as well. But while she looked at him with signs that she was the one who could see right through him, she was resisting his psychoanalysis.
While he was distracted by all this, her crossed hand edges went right for his throat to bring his face down on her knee and she pushed him into the ropes with the back of her other foot. Klein, hearing a loud gasp close by, turned his head and noticed a lion near the rat from earlier who seemed quite distressed to have seen the otter getting hit. “That’s just another meaningless dichotomy,” the well-dressed rabbit scoffed as the otter rolled forward under her tornado kick back toward the center of the ring, “that’s used to divide and conquer.”
She could tell that he was the kind of person who’d have usually enjoyed turning ideas around in his head before accepting or rejecting them. She was playing into what an entrenched part of his personality it’d become deliberately to give him anything to think about other than what she was going to do next, he realized, barely lifting his leg over a low side kick as he did. “There is no opponent,” the rabbit finished, using the same forearm X as earlier to get his backhand in an arm lock.
“Oh, he seems to be having a hard time,” Klein told Rakim as she clotheslined the otter into the ropes on the opposite side. “Just wait,” the bat responded as the otter bounced from the ropes to jump at her headfirst in a corkscrew headbutt which caught her off-guard before landing on his back in front of her, at the lion’s enthusiastic cheer. “The real fight hasn’t started yet,” the cyborg explained as the otter’s kip up back toward the rope avoided the rabbit’s retaliatory stomp.
“Well, I know the source of that one,” the otter winked, less puzzled by her most recent assertion than by her previous ones, briefly mimicking the Jeet Kune Do ‘bounce’ as he did. “Good for you,” she retorted as he parried her palm strike, spinning around her while going for her shoulder-blade with the back of his elbow to end up back at center-ring. “I’m sure it’ll serve you well,” she said as she tripped him to force him into a front walkover back toward the rope, “when you lose and do, in fact, have no opponent.”
“You keep using that expression, ‘real fight’,” the skunk asked Rakim as the otter bent forward over the rope under the rabbit’s crescent kick. “What do you mean by it?” The otter finished diving forward over the rope, getting back on the ring by slipping under the rope and between her feet on his back to stand back up behind her. “It looks real enough to me.” The otter arched his back under her back spinning kick and back-flipped over a low front kick to the other side of the ring while she knelt on her own side of it still holding that X formation with her forearms.
“Showtime,” she said, simply. After adjusting her top hat for a split second, the rabbit extended her arms sideways and two long black, white-tipped wands came out of her sleeves into her hands. She swung them into a figure 8 and aimed them at him menacingly as he wobbled and staggered, hoping to make a poorer target for them.
As he knelt under her first swing her other wand smacked his punching arm on its way to her face and he rolled back out of the way of her double backswings, shaking his hand afterwards in a way that clearly showed it hurt. The otter did a butterfly twist over a series of low swings and let himself fall on his back dramatically under a series of high swings. He sat up cross-legged just in time for the rabbit’s two downward thrusts to land on the ground behind him and, supporting himself on his hands, he thrust both his feet forward at her legs, rolling aside to his feet as she fell face-down where he’d just been.
It was when he let himself fall forward on her back with his punching arms outstretched above his head and met no resistance whatsoever on the way to the floor that his earlier confusion not only returned but increased. When the otter looked to his left and right his bafflement gave way to horror and he scrambled to his feet, wondering just what he’d gotten himself into. The rabbit was looking up at him nonchalantly from the floor with her torso on one side of him while her legs were all the way over on the other side of him, with nothing in-between.
“Ah yes,” he tried to crack wise weakly as her upper and lower body rejoined before his very eyes and she stood back up as though nothing had happened, “the ol’ woman-sawed-in-half trick.” She stretched exaggeratedly upon reforming, reveling in watching the otter squirm as her bones creaked back into place. “I know all about deconstruction,” she explained.
With him still stunned, the rabbit’s left and right sides were the ones to split apart that time. One moved behind him as the other remained in front and both went for his head with two swings that clanged against each other as he narrowly crouched under them. Before he could retaliate, she’d already become one in front of him again, her X guard from before formed by her wands this time.
“I think I’m starting to understand what you meant by ‘real fight’ now,” Klein told Rakim understatedly.
The otter span out of the way of both wands arcing down at his head, pushing the rabbit into the rope as he did. She used the momentum from it to bounce off the rope in a similar headfirst corkscrew dive at him than he’d done at her earlier, except that instead of hitting him with an ordinary headbutt, her front and back divided in midair. Her two wands became four half-wands each held by a half-hand which struck both of the otter’s hips and shoulders at the same time before reuniting on the ground.
That hurt. And, what’s more, it had been very disorienting. He’d have to take it up a notch.
The otter started spinning in place, slowly at first, then faster and faster, his arms and body lengthening, his contours blurring and his skin becoming more and more bluish and translucent as he did. In a moment, his animal features had dissolved into a precipitously whirling spiral of water before her, splintering into a myriad of rivulets trailing around it. He crashed into the rabbit like a wave, sending her into the rope with much greater force than before, before the puddles and streams that he’d splashed himself into all over the ring coalesced back at its center.
Without missing a beat, she pulled her head up from her shoulders and, ‘forgetting’ to put it back on with it staying up where it was, removed her arms and legs as easily as though she were taking off an outfit to put on a different one. All four of her limbs, her torso and her head all hovered in midair right in front of him. The rabbit’s pupils rolled back into her head (still wearing her top hat) and, as her eyes shone with pure white light, she emitted an unearthly, bloodcurdling shriek from beyond, followed by a wide grin with too many teeth which no longer hid the immense satisfaction that she was deriving from facing a worthy foe.
“That is so cool!” the otter couldn’t help exclaiming admiringly. “I wish I could do that.”
She laughed maniacally as her floating arms kept swinging her wands around at him, her disembodied legs remained as determined to kick him as ever and her head circled him like a vulture swooping in snapping her sharp teeth at him when he least expected it. He kept shifting the parts of his body he could see her targeting into watery tendrils that he’d extend at her when she came for them, trying to slap whichever body part she was using to attack him out of the ring, keeping in mind that even a single one of them falling out would count as a ring-out. Before long the otter turned his entire body into six separate floating bodies of water of his own.
Soon realizing there was no longer any point in them staying over the ring where all they’d get would be a stalemate, they moved the fight outside the ring altogether. Some of the floating bodies of water were chasing around the ring the very rabbit body parts that were chasing around some of the other bodies of water he’d become, and vice-versa. They were circling each other in three dimensions, either trying to get above the other segments so as to push them down to the ground, or to get under them to trick them into trying to push them down before getting out of the way in the hopes that they’d miss their mark and hit the ground on their own.
“Ring-out!” the raccoon referee had – somehow – called.
Her hat having just been splashed off her head by some of the water, she’d reflexively tried to grab it between her teeth to stop it from falling. That was why her teeth were too busy for her to bite when the floating water had finally pushed her head down to the ground, barely keeping from dripping down around it. Had a single drop reached the ground before the rabbit had, the otter knew that he’d have lost just as certainly as she had.
“Awww nuts,” her head said on its own, muffled by the hat still in her mouth. Her other body parts dutifully floated back to it while the floating bodies of water also re-gathered into an animal on the ground next to her. Once she’d put herself back together, looking much more elegant again than she had a moment before, he could see that she was breathing heavily from physical effort, but despite her defeat, the rabbit seemed oddly... exhilarated.
“Let’s do this again sometime!” she surprised him by asking, a friendlier expression on her face than he could’ve possibly imagined after all that. “You seem a lot more into this than you did at the start, if you don’t mind my saying” he observed gingerly. “Oh that?” she shrugged. “That was just for show,” she smirked.