The man looks her over, his eyes lingering on every inch of exposed flesh. Wearing a loose fitting tank top with a sports bra underneath, short cutoff shorts, her hair shaved so her scalp catches the light, there’s a lot for him to look at. She feels completely wrong like this but at least Jia Crawford looks the part of a tough lady who wants to join a street gang. The skinny man with a nose ring standing in front of her doesn’t look convinced.
“You’re saying this girl can help us Jillian? I mean, I think I could kick her ass and there’s a reason the boss hires all of you to do the fighting.”
Jia’s eyes narrow as she gets right in his face. She squares her shoulders and looks right into his eyes even though he probably has a foot on her. “You want to see if that’s true? I don’t think you’ll be able to handle me but I guess there’s only one way to find out.”
Eyes throughout the room go wide. An energy starts growing within the crowd. Most of them would love to see a fight. Jillian rushes forward from the group, her pink hair styled into spikes. “I give you my word. I know Candy and she’s tough as nails. We used to compete in tournaments all the time and she always beat me. You think you could kick my ass Tommy?”
Tommy puts a hand on his chin, his head nodding slightly. “No, I couldn’t. You’re tough Jillian but we can’t exactly have you prove that with a bun in the oven. Even I’m not going to ask a pregnant lady to get her ass kicked. We’ll have to see some sort of proof though. Maybe she could fight back then but that was years ago. I need to know she’s still tough if she’s going to take your place. You’ve got big shoes to fill and we need an enforcer if the plan’s going to work.”
This plan’s all Jillian will talk about while at the same time she’s not willing to talk about it at all. She brings up how dangerous it is and how desperately Jia needs to get herself out of San Fransisco because of it at every opportunity. When pressed though she won’t reveal any details. She says it’s too dangerous to know about. Even once Jia convinced her to provide an introduction to her gang and help her stop this plan from within, she refused to give anything up. She said it was better if Jia finds out after she’s initiated. She’ll need to look suitably surprised when the gang reveals it. If they figure out Jillian told her ahead of time, that would go badly for both of them.
Shaking her head, Jia puts her hands on her hips. She considers spitting on the ground for effect before deciding that’s going too far. “What do you have in mind? I’m willing to prove anything, any time. I kind of liked the plan about you trying to take me though.”
Unshaken to have a very aggressive woman in his face, Tommy laughs and walks back toward the group. “That wouldn’t prove anything. I can’t fight to save my life. I use this to handle myself,” he says while patting the very visible gun on his hip. “No, I want you to prove you can handle yourself against someone who isn’t going to show any mercy. Moonbeam, get out here.”
Gasps go up from the crowd. Jillian’s already rushing forward. “That’s not a fair fight and you know it. She’s not an enforcer, we don’t need to take on Moonbeam to be an enforcer. I couldn’t stop her.”
A pale woman with sparkling green eyes steps out of a door on the side of the room. She’s decked out in a long dress which is such a light shade of blue you’d almost think it was white. She has a huge smile on her face, silhouetted by shaggy blonde hair. There’s a cruelness in her eyes, despite her outwardly sunny disposition.
Pushing Jillian lightly away, Tommy walks toward the new arrival. “We need her to really prove herself, the boss isn’t playing around on this one. I need someone good. She doesn’t have to win. If she holds her own, I’ll call that good enough. Moon’s not going to go easy on her though.”
“Why is she even here?” Jillian’s practically stomping on the ground now. Why does she care so much? Jia had to beg her to try this plan but if she fails here Jillian’s not on the hook for anything. She’ll be in the same position she was before this trip to the city. The same position she previously resigned herself to. “She’s supposed to be with the boss.”
The woman steps forward, swaying her hips as she goes. Her dress hugs her tight. “I’m always where I’m supposed to be. The boss needed some privacy so I came to visit my buddy Tommy. Do you have a problem with that?”
Jillian sinks away from her. She looks to Jia with worry in her eyes. “That’s between you and the boss. I can’t imagine he’d want you endangering yourself though. Who’d protect him if you’re out of business?”
Moonbeam gets right in her face and shoves her backward. It’s a light push, but enough that Jillian stumbles. Jia can make out the anger in her eyes but she knows with the baby she isn’t going to respond. “Nobody’s going to put me out of business. I can handle this little girl you dragged in here.”
Starting to look frightened, Jillian rushes to Jia. “I bring you someone who can help out and you treat her like this. That’s some crap. She can leave if that’s how you want to play things.”
Putting a hand between them, Jia stops Jillian. “I have this.”
Jillian leans in, trying to be heard only by Jia. “You really don’t. This chick’s serious. She has some strange abilities and can really mess someone up. I wouldn’t be able to take her down.”
“What can she do?”
“Her eyes glow. Like hardcore glow, which wouldn’t be so bad except they cause burning on anyone she looks at. I don’t know how she does it, but it hurts bad really fast.”
Jia smiles, trying to assure Jillian she can handle it. “That’s not a big deal. I won’t let her get a good look at me. I’ll get in close and fight. She’s in a dress, I can’t imagine that’s going to end well for her.”
“It doesn’t work that way. She’s tough as nails in a fight too. She’s fast, she hits hard, and if she gets a little distance between you, you’re done.” Jia pushes her aside and starts walking toward Moonbeam. Jillian sighs. “Don’t say I didn’t warn you. I’ll make sure your body gets back to your parents.”
Stopping ten feet from Moonbeam, Jia looks her up and down. “How are we doing this?”
Moonbeam steps forward and the rest of the crowd backs up. “I admire your courage if nothing else. One on one, no weapons. We’ll fight until somebody gives or Tommy’s happy with the results. Are you ready?”
A nod’s all it takes. The second the movement’s registered, Moonbeam’s eyes begin to glow with a bright light. Jia’s determined not to be caught in one place and starts rushing sideways, trying not to let her opponent get a good look at her. Wherever she runs, the crowds of gawking onlookers clear out of the way, not wanting to be caught in the gaze themselves.
She’s fast but not as fast as someone turning their head. She starts to feel the burning on her skin. At first it feels more like an itch but it picks up intensity fast. It starts in her arm but moves toward her chest. Initial discomfort turns to pain so she leaps forward and pushes herself into a backflip. She turns mid air and starts running the other way. That broke the gaze for a moment and the pain’s gone.
Something’s said under Moonbeam’s breath but she can’t make it out. This time as she circles she starts closing the distance between them. She wants to get behind the woman but in a straight fight that’s not easy. Soon the pain returns, but she’s glad to realize it reset to the level it started at the first time. All she has to do is break the gaze and Moonbeam’s effectively starting over.
Jia starts trying to think of ways to break the gaze. She feels the pain in her chest so she knows around where the woman’s looking at the moment. Closing the distance fast with the pain increasing to levels where it’s going to be hard to continue, she hits the deck and falls forward. She tries to catch herself on her hands but misses and hits her face on the hard cement floor. Her nose hits hard and she feels it give slightly. Blood’s already starting to stream out. The pain in her chest’s gone though.
The downside of hitting the ground that hard’s she can’t get moving again right away. That gives her opponent time to reset and the pain time to start returning. It follows her back to her feet and by the time she’s moving again it’s already increasing.
Blood from her nose mixes with sweat dripping down her face. She’s running hard to try and stay ahead of the gaze but she’s not keeping up. She’s getting closer but as a result Moonbeam’s starting to circle as well. This isn’t working. By the time she reaches the woman she’s going to be exhausted.
Evasive maneuvers haven’t worked so she decides to try a more direct approach. Changing her strategy, Jia turns and runs straight at Moonbeam. She takes the woman off guard and she starts to back up. More importantly, the change in direction caused the gaze to break for a moment. The pain resets. It resumes within seconds but having reset, Jia can again handle it. That won’t last long though. She’s felt this pain reset a few times and it only takes ten to fifteen seconds to get back to full strength.
Closing in directly’s more effective but Moonbeam continues to circle and it continues to be difficult to get close. Ten feet away she feels the pain again reach near unbearable levels. This is the worst it’s been so far and she doesn’t know what to do except break that gaze. Most moves she can think to try would slow her down enough that the distance between them can grow again. Worse, the gaze is now right in her gut, allowing Moonbeam to better adapt to sudden changes in direction. Jia’s learning as they go but so is her opponent.
The only move she can think to try in the moment’s a forward somersault. Doing one while running worries her. She’s afraid she’ll snap her neck. She doesn’t know that she has a choice though. For all she knows the pain’s doing real damage to her body.
“You’re persistent, I’ll give you that. Maybe you’re not useless.” Jia hopes that acknowledgment from her opponent will be enough for Tommy but there’s no indication they should stop. Without other options, she tries the somersault. Diving forward, she tucks her neck, rolls through the motion and lands back on her feet. She seems to catch her opponent by surprise and the pain’s gone again.
Does this woman ever blink? She’s close now. Only a few feet away. Moonbeam changes her stance a little, preparing for them to actually fight. Jia winds a punch up and throws all of her might behind it. She goes right for Moonbeam’s head. The punch is avoided without issue, the woman’s head dipping to the side.
Off balance when her punch doesn’t land, Jia stumbles. A kick hits her in the leg and she goes down, crashing onto her shoulder. There’s pain but again her sudden change in direction seems to have caught Moonbeam off guard. The pain in her shoulder’s a lot better than what the gaze was doing.
Landing at the woman’s feet, Jia grabs for her legs and tries to tackle her as she gets up. It isn’t pretty but she’s not in a place to fight pretty. This is going bad and she needs to turn the tide fast. They go crashing to the ground, rolling, both trying to get on top of the other. Realizing she’s losing that battle, Jia rolls away, putting a few feet between them.
On her feet first, she doesn’t hesitate. Moonbeam’s getting her legs under her but she’s not ready yet. Instead of going for the attack, she slides past the other woman, getting behind her. Once there, she moves in and catches Moonbeam in a standing choke hold. She tightens it, burying her face in the side of Moonbeam’s head. She’s determined not to give her an angle to start that gaze back up.
Unable to breathe, Moonbeam thrashes about but Jia holds her with all her strength. She tries to get an arm on something but her angle makes that almost impossible. Suddenly the woman lets her left knee go limp and kicks backward and across her body into Jia’s knee. She buckles, not going down but slipping to the side enough that the woman can clutch her arm tight and flip her through the air and over her body.
They crash onto the hard floor. Jia lands hard on her back and spasms shoot though her but she feels lucky it wasn’t worse. She could have easily landed on her neck and that would have been the end of things with the cement floor. She tries to roll to her feet but Moonbeam turns to Tommy. “Enough. She’s pretty good. We’re better off with her on our side than against us. End this before I have to break her.”
Tommy comes forward awkwardly, clearly enjoying the fight. “Alright then ladies, if Moonbeam vouches for you that’s good enough for me. You fought pretty well against someone with her talent. You’re in. There’s an initiation to go through but that won’t be a big deal for someone with your ability.”
Jia’s heart sinks as she tries to climb to her feet. She remembers her brother Shin’s initiation with this group and doesn’t want any part of something like that. She wants to get Jillian free of them but she’s not prepared to hurt innocents in the process. Jillian moves forward to help support her. The more she moves, the more pain she’s in. That hit took a lot out of her. “What sort of initiation are we talking about? That fight wasn’t enough to prove I know what I’m doing?”
With a huge grin on his face, Tommy steps toward her. “Well, we have to know you’re loyal to the group so it’s a two part thing. The first part’s pretty standard while the second depends on what we need. Neither part’s terribly difficult. It isn’t about proving you’re some amazing fighter, we see that already or we wouldn’t even consider you. Now we need to see what you’ll do for us. Your friend can fill you in on the basics.”
Unable to think of anything else to say, she just nods. The crowd’s already starting to drift away, not interested in huddling around now that the fight’s over. “Is there anything else you need me to do or am I good to check the place out?”
Putting a hand in the air, Tommy laughs and jumps up and down a few times. “Neither. Sorry but you’re not allowed to hang around here until you’re fully part of the group. Mainly a security thing. Sure you understand. You can take a few minutes to shake off the fight but then you’ve gotta go. You can go back wherever you’re staying or Jillian can take you. Whatever. Tomorrow night once you’re part of the group you can check out the sweet digs.”
Shaking her head, Jillian slips Jia’s arm around her shoulders. “Sweet digs is overselling it. This place is a mess.” She turns her head to Jia. “You’ll see tomorrow night I guess. You’re not going to have any problem with the initiation if you held your own against Moonbeam. Come on, I’ll give you a ride back to my place where you can shake this off.”
They start to limp away but Moonbeam’s standing near the door. Her hair’s a mess and there’s a red line running across her neck from where Jia tried to choke her out. Her dress is torn at the hip. She doesn’t seem to mind as she’s got a ton of energy and comes rushing up to them as they get close. “Thanks for the fight. It’s so rare that I get to take on someone worth my time. You’re very good and you withstood my gaze better than anyone I can remember. I look forward to fighting by your side. I might even put in a good word with the boss, see if I can get you assigned near me when things go down. Just don’t mess up the initiation after I stuck my neck out for you.”
Jia nods and offers a handshake. With a laugh Moonbeam comes in and squeezes her in a tight hug which makes her cringe. The pain shooting through her back flares up again and Jia wonders whether that was intentional. Unable to prove it and not sure she’d want to anyway, they say their goodbyes and Jia and Jillian make there way out of the place.