It was Eva Blue-Eyes, standing at the lowest level of the cavea in front of several stunned Fags, all of whom fell to their knees and clutched at her as she passed them.
“Lady Jaden, did you forget about our four o’clock?” said Eva, stepping right in front of the Lady Jaden Hulk and putting her hands on her hips. “It turns out I have an opening after all, if you’re interested. Had to ban someone. I was so happy, I thought I’d come get you myself.”
Lady Jaden bent down, her face dumb as an ape, making affectionate- sounding grunts. She raised a massive hand and gently touched Eva with it.
Sir Rodrigo stopped and stared with everyone else. Audible gasps and whispers fluttered through the stadium like locusts taking flight.
“What is the meaning of this intrusion?” Chadsworth demanded from Cali’s royal throne.
Cali was getting held back by Jay and Clarice, who were trying to keep her up in the box and away from Eva.
Eva paid them no attention.
“What are they having you do?” she cooed up at Lady Jaden. “Are you all Hulked out for Cali’s amusement?”
Eva reached between her breasts, and pulled out another vial. She raised it to Lady Jaden’s lips and poured the vial in.
Lady Jaden shrank back to herself. She was still naked — her body cut with muscle, her buttocks firm and taut, her stomach a cheese-grater.
“My princess,” she said to Eva, kneeling in the dust.
“Now then,” said Eva to her new date, taking Lady Jaden’s hand and pulling her to her feet. “Wanna go ice skating?”
As Eva went, she waggled her fingers at Sir Rodrigo.
“I see you, too, Suitor,” she said. “I don’t know your name but I enjoy your dedication.”
Eva and Lady Jaden started to walk out, hand in hand, the way Eva had come in.
For a second, it seemed as though that would be it, but then there was a golden flash of light and Cali was down in Eva’s face.
“YOU,” she spat.
Eva looked right back into Cali’s blazing eyes, ice against fire.
“Oh, Cali! I didn’t see you there!”
“What the fuck do you think you’re doing?” Cali snarled.
Cali was taller than Eva but Eva looked up with her large eyes and smiled pleasantly.
“I was just coming to get a scheduled Audience,” said Eva, smiling.
“What the fuck is your problem? What the fuck did I ever do to you?”
“Look, Cali, I know you’re still upset about the last Equinox, but you’re just gonna have to let it go.”
“You can’t come into my fucking Theatrium,” snapped Cali. “You can’t. I don’t give a fuck how many disciples you have.”
“Don’t get so upset,” said Eva. “You’re only, like, a couple hundred thousand disciples behind me. A few hundred thousand more and you’ll catch right up!”
Cali was now so angry she couldn’t even speak. She spun around and gestured madly at her Councillors.
“UGGHH!” she screeched, thrusting a finger at Eva.
“I’m afraid with her access, my princess, we have no authority to — “ Chadsworth started to say, sweat on his bald pate and his hands spread in a gesture of futility, but Cali cut him off.
“FUCKING USELESS!” she screamed.
Padd looked around. The Theatrium was nearing capacity.
“Oh, don’t be so dramatic, Cali,” said Eva. “You’ve been like this since Unveiling.”
“Everyone’s either in love with you or afraid of you,” Cali said. “But at least I didn’t have to get modded. At least I’m not a fucking reanimated corpse.”
Eva’s face darkened.
“Tread carefully, child,” she said.
The unsettling light left her eyes as soon as it had appeared. She smiled again.
“In fact, I think you are afraid of me.”
Rising whispers tittered in the stands. Suitors and Fags all chattered quietly to each other, watching the two Anodynes square up.
“CAT FIGHT!” someone yelled.
“CAT FIGHT!” from another part of the cavea.
Calls for a “CAT FIGHT!” fell like dominoes, and it wasn’t long before the entire Coliseum was chanting for a Cat Fight.
The stands were overflowing, Fags and Suitors standing in the aisles and at the entrances. Eva was the one drawing the crowd and Cali knew it.
“Oh, Cali, do you seriously wanna do this?” said Eva, still treating Cali like a preschool teacher would an uncooperative student. “Do you really want to humiliate yourself in front of everyone again?”
“I fucking hate you,” said Cali.
Both of them changed.
The transformations weren’t like the Hulk transformations, messy and loud and painful-looking. They were reflexive, pretty, aqueous. Within seconds, both Cali and Eva’s bodies seemed to melt into those of tiger-sized house cats. Cali’s was golden blonde and Eva’s was snow white.
The audience sent a cry of jubilation to the blue sky above, the sound bigger than anything one could’ve imagined in this place only half an hour before.
Eva and Cali leaped at each other. They connected in the air and fell to the dust where they began rolling around.
They rolled and slashed and bit and chomped and wrestled with each other. One would get the other on her back, but then the pinned one would kick her haunches under the chin of the dominant one, and the positions would reverse.
They wrestled, the Cali-Cat doubled over with her hind feet kicking frantically at the Eva-Cat, the crowd cheering, Lady Jaden standing off to the side naked and watching while Sir Rodrigo stood off to the side, unsure of what to do.
The crowd ate it up, cheering like mad.
It ended just as quickly as it had started.
The Eva-Cat shook herself loose from the current grapple and circled back, shaking her head — one of her ears had been nearly torn off, hanging by a few strands of cartilage and flopping against her temple.
The Cali-Cat charged her, but this time Eva ducked under her at the last second, spinning and diving back in. Her jaws finally found Cali’s jugular. There was a crunch, a disconcertingly human-sounding yowl, and the two of them were still.
The Eva-Cat, blood on her maw, stalked back over to Lady Jaden, where she melted back into human form and sighed heavily.
“So sad, to see such talent wasted,” she announced to the audience.
She blew a kiss at the Cali-Cat’s fallen cat-body.
“I’m sure she’ll figure it out someday.”
The Cali-Cat lay there, not moving, not respawning, her blood leaking onto the sand.
Eva took Lady Jaden’s arm in hers and phased out of the Theatrium without another word. She didn’t look back.
The crowd applauded like the world’s largest golf tournament. Already people were heading for the exits.
Cali-Cat twitched and melted back to human form. She stayed there for a moment, lying face up in the stadium dust, still naked with a look of pitiful sorrow on her face. One almost felt sorry for her, but then her expression contorted to rage.
She leaped to her feet and shot back up to the throne area in a golden crackle of electricity.
Sir Rodrigo walked out onto the stadium floor again, his feet feeling heavy, his whole body feeling heavy.
He looked up to the royal box.
“How dare she?” Clarice was saying, aghast. “Most Anodynes wouldn’t dare even set foot in another’s Theatrium! Let alone steal away their Suitors! And in the middle of a Trial!”
“She’s all but Coronated Diamond,” said Chad, sounding tired and defeated. “She can do as she pleases. If we had challenged her, we would’ve had to answer to Eli and Evangeline. Do you want to deal with them?”
“Well, no, but-but-but,” sputtered Clarice. “B-but, the protocol, she’s not Diamond yet!”
“She’s less than a season away,” said Chadsworth.
“None of the Diamonds acted this way when they were the favorites,” said Clarice. “Not Emilie, not even Chao Xing. What is this place coming to?”
Cali had conjured herself another martini, but upon reconsidering she conjured a large bottle of tequila and started chugging it. She downed half the bottle and let out an enormous belch.
“Everyone shut the fuck up,” she said.
She flew back down to where Sir Rodrigo still stood in Hulk form with the same dumb look on his face and his knuckles on the ground.
His whole body felt like an erection that wouldn’t go away, all stiff and throbbing and uncomfortable, cured meat packed into a rubber glove. He was no longer angry, but the Hulk form stayed.
Cali looked up at him, hands on her hips, and a blasé look on her face.
“Chadsworth,” she called. “Antidote.”
Chadsworth threw down another yellow vial and Cali caught it. She handed it to Sir Rodrigo. It was tiny in his fingers, the size of a pebble. He fumbled with the little cork before Cali stopped him with a hand on his arm — Sir Rodrigo realized this was the first time she’d touched him — and opened it for him. Sir Rodrigo bent down awkwardly, his mouth open, and Cali tossed the liquid down his gullet. He instantly began to shrink to normal size.
“Since that bitch Lady Jaden isn’t so obsessed with me after all,” Cali asked Padd when he was himself again. “Wanna go get dinner?”
“No, thank you,” he said, quickly thumbing his suit back on. “I’m going to be moving on.”
The entire crowd had bled out with the end of the battle and the departure of Eva. The Theatrium echoed again, lonesome and empty.
“Are you suuuure?” asked Cali teasingly, flashing her white teeth.
Sir Rodrigo grinned at her.
“I’d sure hate to be you right now,” he said. “You just got dissed in the most public way possible. I doubt there’s any coming back from this. So yeah, I’m out of here.”
“Well, here, let me make it easy for you,” said Cali, raising a hand crackling with golden electricity.
She blew Sir Rodrigo across the arena where he vaporized into nothing with a sizzle and a thunderclap.