Cali held out her hands.
“Cali Quinn, for your consideration.”
“Sir Rodrigo the Majestic, at your service,” said the male Suitor, taking one hand.
“Lady Jaden the Bronze,” said the female Suitor, taking the other hand. “At your service.”
They each kissed her on the knuckles.
Cali tapped the jewel set into her platinum collar.
“We’ll settle who gets this in the Theatrium. Grab on.”
She grabbed their hands and the three of them phased back into the Colosseum, again not by stepping through a conveniently located doorway but by experiencing the very universe around them phase from one vista to the next. Cali preferred this method. Why would someone walk through a door when they could just travel at the speed of thought?
They were back in the royal box. Master Cali was seated in her throne, nursing a martini like usual.
Sir Rodrigo and Lady Jaden sat at the feast table. The smells wafting off it were heavenly. Both found themselves enticed but dared not help themselves.
Cali examined her Audience tie.
Lady Jaden was tall, with a broad forehead and nose and a permanent scowl on her face, staring straight ahead. She looked like a military recruit, with her long, dark hair done up in a tight ball at the back of her head. Ethnically, she looked like a light-skinned American of African-descendent or maybe a dark-skinned Latina.
Sir Rodrigo was shorter, wiry and brown-skinned Asian. He could’ve been Filipino or some similar nationality. He had a small goatee going, and his hair was close-cropped and bristly black.
Both wore pure white tuxedos, like all Suitors.
Cali didn’t find either of them particularly attractive but they’d have to do.
“I’ve got a double-Audience now,” Cali said to her entourage, gesturing at Sir Rodrigo and Lady Jaden. “I didn’t know the Palace was doing these now.”
“I won the Trial, your sexiness,” Lady Jaden said, speaking aloud for the first time. “The Muslim filth merely slipped through the cracks. Give me permission to exterminate him for your hand and I will do so.”
“Fuck you, bitch nigger!” Sir Rodrigo snapped back. “How do you know I’m Muslim? I could be Catholic.”
Lady Jaden didn’t take the bait, keeping her eyes on Cali.
Cali looked them over, crossing her arms and puckering her lips in thought.
“What are your names again?”
They answered at the same time.
“Sir Rodrigo the Majestic, my princess.”
“Lady Jaden the Bronze, my princess.”
“He has already defiled your presence with his mere existence, my lady,” said Lady Jaden, still looking only at Cali and not at Sir Rodrigo. “I insist you allow me to destroy him for your amusement, and then we will go off and I will win your Allegiance on my own merit.”
Cali tossed her hair over her shoulder and turned to her Councillors. Jay towered silently from his corner. Conner the joey reclined at her feet in a patch of sunlight.
“Chadsworth, Clarice, what are the terms for a tied Audience Trial? I don’t think I’ve ever had one.”
“Trials are generally not supposed to have ties, my princess,” said Clarice. “They only occur when there is a glitch in the Maya. But in the event of one, a tiebreaker combat would be appropriate.”
“Hmm,” said Cali, already liking the sound of this. “So a combat then.”
“It’s worth noting, my princess,” said Chadsworth. “That a combat of this sort would bring in some attention, especially between a lesbian of pure African descent, and a male Muslim of southeastern Asian descent.”
“Yeah, and it just so happens to be occurring in the Theatrium of Cali Quinn,” said Cali. “…who everyone used to know and love up until like a week ago.”
She was smiling now, a genuine smile, and it looked beautiful on her.
“I refuse to engage with a Muslim over a Trial I rightfully won,” said Lady Jaden.
“None of your business, Suitor.”
“Now you’re keeping secrets on behalf of mudslimes? I’ll have you reported for this!”
Cali walked over to her, fingered her tie and spoke in a low, sexy voice.
“I… like a woman… who will… kill a man… for me,” she said, tongue on her teeth. She traced a finger down Lady Jaden’s cheek.
“My princess,” whispered Lady Jaden, instantly subdued.
“Slaughter this shitskin for me,” cooed Cali. “Then we’ll ride off into the sunset.”
Lady Jaden looked at Sir Rodrigo, their faces pure hatred. Cali could never understand why people despised each other this much. She’d always thought all this hate was reserved for Repentants only.
“It will be my pleasure disemboweling this blank-skinned oppressor, my princess,” said Lady Jaden. “I’ll do it for my ancestors.”
“Your ancestors and my ancestors got nothing on each other,” Sir Rodrigo growled. “You just pissed I hit the embankment the same time you did.”
“Good!” said Cali, cutting them off. All things considered she felt more cheerful than she had in weeks. “Now we just gotta figure out a way to do it.”
“Swords and song?” offered Clarice. “They could pick their own songs of Tribute and sing them while dueling.”
“Did it last week.”
“Combat with some indestructible lifeforce from a known IP?” Chad offered. “Use the Xenomorphs again, perhaps? Survivor wins?”
Jay spoke up.
“What about a Hulk battle, my princess?”
Cali perked up.
“Oooh,” she said. “I like.”
“And a Hulk battle may further increase attendance, my princess,” said Chadsworth. “A wonderful suggestion, and easily arranged.”
He strode over and produced two vials from his robe sleeve. One was yellow, the other purple.
He handed the vials to Sir Rodrigo and Lady Jaden. Cali went back to her throne, tossing a flirtatious look over her shoulder as she went.
“Winner gets to take me to dinner,” she said.
Sir Rodrigo and Lady Jaden took their vials and were led to the stadium floor by Chadsworth and Clarice. Sir Rodrigo went to one end with Chadsworth, and Lady Jaden stayed at the other with Clarice.
Chadsworth fitted Sir Rodrigo with an enormous collar attached to an enormous chain stuck into the ground.
“What’s this for?” Sir Rodrigo asked. The collar was heavy, hanging off his shoulders like a metal hula hoop.
“An even start,” said Chadsworth, clicking the metal lock. Down at the other end, Clarice was locking up Lady Jaden.
Cali stood at the front of her royal box with the rest of her entourage.
They got their vials ready.
“On my mark, drink!” Cali yelled, holding a golden flag in the air.
There were already a few people trickling into the Theatrium. The Councillors took their place at Cali’s right. Jay stood off to her left, eternally at attention.
Cali dropped the flag.
Down across the arena, Lady Jaden uncorked her vial and tipped it to her lips. Immediately her skin flushed with purple and she began to grow. Her muscles bulged outward. Her face grew heavily browed, Neanderthal-esque. Her black hair burst from its tidy bun into a wild mane.
Sir Rodrigo uncorked and drank his. It tasted lemony.
For a second he felt nothing, and then he felt everything.
Rage. The most complete and glorious activation of all the nerves in his body. They thrummed with fury. It roared through his veins like boiling water.
He looked down and saw he was growing. He felt his muscles thicken, fatten, turn as hard as bridge cables. His shirt ripped off him. His pants sheared off. He was nude, his penis tiny and yellow between his legs.
He looked at Lady Jaden, also nude, her breasts flat against huge pectoral muscles, her own genitals protected under a tuft of purple pubic hair. Her body pulsed with muscle, deep purple in color.
Sir Rodrigo fixated on her, small from across the stadium. Thoughts flashed through his mind.
Fucking uppity cunt. Black Americans were the most racist fucking people on earth after the Repentants. These fucking hypocrites.
He screamed, and it filled the stadium.
Lady Jaden screamed back.
“Now THAT’S what I’m talking about!” yelled an excited Cali, eying the Theatrium entrances.
The trickle of spectators had turned into a flowing stream. Seats were being filled.
Sir Rodrigo slammed his fists together. The impact sounded like rocks getting split.
He tried to step forward, was stopped by the chain. He took hold of the collar Chadsworth had fitted on him and snapped it from his neck. Lady Jaden did the same.
They charged, running headlong at each other.
They collided at the center of the arena.
Cali heard the growing crowd cheer as the two Suitors locked arms.
They grappled for second, fingers struggling to find purchase against their cement-hard muscles, and then they each grabbed fistfuls of the other’s hair and began punching each other in the face repeatedly, stuck in a hockey fight pose.
Each blow was a freight train of force. For every punch they took, they gave one. Their thoughts dissolved. They didn’t think in thoughts. They thought in pure aggression, in destroying whatever was in front of them.
The punches increased in velocity. Neither went down. They just got angrier.
The growing audience cheered raucously as the Hulks beat at each other, but the cheers subsided as they realized the battle wasn’t going to shift gears. Soon the only noise was the meaty thwacks of the fists pounding cheek and nose and brow.
Cali stared down at the two Hulks and wondered how the fuck this shit happened to her.
“They seem to be, uh, quite evenly matched, my princess,” she heard Chadsworth say.
“I’m not bored yet,” she snapped at him.
The punching charade went on but then there came a voice from the crowd.
“Yoo-hoo! Lady Jaden the Bronze!”
Lady Jaden turned when she heard the voice. Sir Rodrigo socked her a final good one but she shoved him away and he toppled into the dust.
Cali turned and saw the intruder. She heard Clarice gasp.