“And who the hell are you?” Danjo demanded as he turned to face him.
“Who the hell are you?” Max countered.
“You watch your tone with me, asswipe,” Danjo warned him. “I take it you also know Ma’Quiver?”
“And what of it?”
“Tell me now. Where is he?”
“Wouldn’t tell you, even if I knew.”
“Fine, have it your way.”
“Please… Somebody…” DJ pleaded.
“Let’s take this outside,” Max told him, seeing the damage to his club.
“No more stalling,” Danjo said curtly, “we settle this here.”
Brad wrenched Rod’s arm again for emphasis.
“Coward,” Max called him out, “let Rod go.”
“Just who do you think you’re talking to?” Brad demanded. “Nobody fucks with Danjo!”
“As this fool’s about to learn.” Danjo glared at Max. “Just hang on to him. Somebody has to know where—”
Before Danjo could blurt out a word of warning, Rude Bones popped up behind Brad and cracked a bottle over his head.
“Thanks, man,” Rod mumbled, stumbling away while rubbing his mauled wrist.
“Heh-heh!” the old pirate cackled. “Still got it!”
Shooting a sly wink at Jillian, who gasped as she peered over the top of the table she was hiding under, increasingly certain that following up on her employer’s drawn-out absence was a mistake.
At least until a glass ashtray beaned him right in the forehead, flooring him, and she ducked back under her table.
“That’s enough of that,” Danjo remarked, having snatched that projectile and winging at him before Max could make a move. He then turned to Jillian’s hiding place. “Yo, girl!” he quipped, “You wanna go out after we’re done? I promise, this won’t take long!”
“What the hell is going on here?” Justin demanded as he stopped short of the open floor.
“You did it again, didn’t you?” Felicia sighed disgustedly, hand resting firmly on her hip.
“Wait a minute!” Justin stepped back, taking in the scene, then turned back to her. “You know these guys?”
“Felicia?” Danjo paused for a moment, then turned to Justin with a withering glare. “Don’t tell me you’re picking up strays?”
“What the hell does that mean!?” Justin then turned to Felicia. “And who are those assholes? Don’t tell me they’re with you.”
“That’s enough!” Graham declared, hefting the torch pole he still held. “If you’re with them, you’re goin’ down, too!”
“Be careful, Max!” Rod warned him, retreating to the edge of the floor. Painfully aware that he was horribly outmatched in this mess. “That bastard uses the same shadow-moves as Ma’Quiver!”
Before Max could fully register what he just heard, Danjo zapped in, and if he hadn’t had so much experience of late trying to dodge such things, he would be flat on his ass instead of barely out of the way.
“So you can’t use Shanshou-kan,” Danjo sneered. “Why would he bother to teach a loser like you?”
“Ma’Quiver…” Felicia snorted. “So that’s what this is all about. Always Ma’Quiver…”
“Max!” Justin stepped forward.
“No ya don’t!” Graham challenged, brandishing his torch stick. “Little twerp like you ain’t even worth Danjo’s time, which means I have to waste my time with you instead!”
“You asked for it!” Justin shot back.
Before he realized that he had gotten a little too used to this place, remembering that he left his weapons back on the ship after their last training session. And thus quickly found himself dancing madly backward in a desperate attempt to avoid that torch Graham kept thrusting at him. Thinking quickly, he moved to grab one of his own.
Felicia, meanwhile, slipped up silently behind him, bottle in hand, have taken a page from Rude Bones’ playbook.
At least until Shades caught her by the wrist, locking her arm joints as the bottle rolled haplessly away along the floor.
“Let’s sit this one out, shall we?” Shades suggested, glad he wasn’t trying to leverage anyone as strong as that Graham fellow appeared to be. Danjo’s attack had taken a lot out of him, and he doubted he would be able to hold even her for long as it was. “Don’t know what your story is, but that’s not how dates go where I come from.”
“Let me go, you jerk!” Felicia tried to kick at him, but he had positioned himself so she couldn’t reach at him while doubled over.
“Hey!” Graham shouted, “Let her go!”
But as he turned to face Shades, he barely dodged a swipe from Justin’s new torch stick.
“Don’t turn your back on Justin Black,” Justin warned him. “I’ll burn your ass!”
“I got your back, bro,” Shades told him. “Let’s wrap this up, ’cause Max’s gonna need all the help he can get.”
“Oh, I’ll wrap things up.” Graham twirled his torch stick for emphasis. “Nobody fucks with us without getting burned!”
As the two of them clashed, Max and Danjo began their own fight in earnest. And Danjo wasted no time, jumping right in on a fast-paced offensive that Max could barely keep up with. Found he was fast beginning to suspect that this was what things would have been like back at Nikopolas if Ma’Quiver had gone all-out, instead of entertaining the crowd.
Justin, meanwhile, quickly learned how tricky it could be to try to dodge a torch while not tripping over tables and chairs. Graham ruthlessly pushed him around the floor, pressing him with a constant barrage of thrusts and swipes. Nearly got him when he kicked over a table, and Justin barely sidestepped it, the bottles sliding to the floor and cracking open a puddle of booze on the floor.
Graham’s next strike so close he could feel it singe his hair.
Seizing the opportunity, before Graham could bring the plain end around at him, Justin swept upward, nailing him square in the nuts. Followed with a blow upside the head, then knocking the torch stick out of his flailing hand. He then finished by knocking one of his legs out from under him as he staggered back.
His torch, though, hit the ground at the same time, igniting all the alcohol pooled on the floor.
Now that their fight was over, DJ rushed in with a fire extinguisher as Graham rolled frantically away from the puddle of flames, accidentally hitting his head with the canister as he turned to put out the guttering blaze.
“Damn…” Shades muttered, more certain than ever that the staff was most definitely Justin’s weapon of choice. But his impression faded to dismay as he turned his attention back to Max. Though his friend had tried to muster an offensive against Danjo, this troublesome foe’s evasion was too quick; for every blow Max actually landed, Danjo got in several, and those last couple clean shots had only served to stoke his anger.
Now Max was reeling on his feet, and it was no great surprise when his friend’s next attack ended with Danjo zapping to the side and kicking him from behind, sending Max rolling over one of the tables and crashing to the floor.
“Max!” Justin cried, rushing in with his still-burning torch to strike from behind, but Danjo was too fast. Even Justin was taken aback by his uncanny speed, switching his grip in an attempt to block. But Danjo’s kick smashed through his makeshift weapon at mid-length, leaving him clutching two splintered halves as his foot stomped back down, knocking Justin sliding across the floor.
Shades could only watch in horror, for making even a single move would first entail letting Felicia get loose.
“So, what’s it gonna be?” Danjo turned to him.
“I don’t do hostages,” Shades told him, remembering all too unpleasantly what it was like to be one. “My only objective was to keep her from interfering.”
With that, he let her go, casually blocking her attempt at backhanding him as he stepped back out of her reach, bracing himself for the coming beatdown. Already had one round to learn just how outmatched he was here. And, unlike in his dreams, no way to bend the rules the way this guy could bend time.
“I’m only going to ask one more time…” Danjo cracked his knuckles. “Where is Ma’Quiver?”
“He’s right here, Clyde.”
Sure enough, Ma’Quiver stood near the entrance, then made his way across the floor, both his face and his gait carrying a sternness Shades hadn’t seen in either since their confrontation with Bertona back in Bodeen, as well as a steely resolve he was sure there must be a story behind.
“It’s Danjo now, Dominik,” he informed him, “and it’s about time you showed yourself.”
“Whatever,” he muttered, then turned to his friends. “I’m sorry, guys, I truly am,” he apologized. “I was hoping if he didn’t know I was here, he might behave himself for five minutes. So, the rumors about you were true. You even took the ancient word for ‘Trouble’ in your childhood homeland for yourself, I see…”
“So you were hiding from me,” Danjo smirked.
“I was sort of hoping you’d grown up, but that was apparently too much to ask,” Ma’Quiver resumed. “I didn’t want to believe you’d hurt innocent people, just to get to me. You just crossed the line. I guess this is one pointless fight I simply can’t avoid anymore.”
“So this is the great Lazlo’s apprentice…” Danjo appraised him. “Your master’s not around to save your ass this time.”
“He was once your master, too,” Ma’Quiver reminded him, “so I guess now you’ll finally get what you wanted. From here on out, this is between you and me. If you lose, you and your friends pack up and leave this place.”
“And if I win,” Danjo conditioned, “you never teach another person Shanshou-kan again. Ever. Lazlo never needed another apprentice.”
“You abandoned him,” Ma’Quiver replied, “when our art has always been one apprentice away from extinction. But fine, I accept your terms. Let’s see what you’ve learned since last we met.”
“Oh, you’ll see, Dominik. I didn’t train to become a homeless loser like you.”
“I am not homeless,” Ma’Quiver countered. “Just like my master, I learned to make myself at home wherever I happen to be.”
“It’s the same damn thing,” Danjo snorted.
“Don’t be so sure. How many places have you worn out your welcome anyway?”
“Well, I’ll give you this much,” Danjo sneered, clearly not liking having to look up to him now that they were standing closer, “you have gotten taller.”
“I suppose I have.” Returning his gaze without so much as flinching. Shifting into his fighting stance, he said, “Show me where you’ve been.”
And so they squared off.
Much like the others, Shades tried in vain to keep track of them as they blinked and flickered around the room, catching only a few more fleeting glimpses than anyone else. Even their normal moves were fast and furious, making it hard to tell who had the advantage. Blurs and shadows he couldn’t always follow, yet he tried anyway.
After a couple rounds, the action began to slow down, pausing with them both standing a couple paces apart.
“Well met…” Danjo snorted, breathing harder than his tone of voice would suggest, “but surely that can’t be all you’ve got. Let’s get serious, shall we?”
And so their duel resumed, both of them fighting with an intensity that made their first round look like a casual sparring match.
But as their fierce exchange continued, even those less versed in the martial arts could tell Danjo was getting pushed back.
“Dammit…” he muttered, staggering back. Then he righted himself, declaring, “Now you’re in trouble, boy. Now I’m serious.” His face tensed in visible concentration. “Let me show you something that would make Lazlo shit a brick. You’ll miss it if you blink. I call it…”
Ma’Quiver raised an eyebrow, even as his eyes seemed to come unfocused.
Danjo seemed to completely vanish— not even a flicker— and it was only after he appeared behind Ma’Quiver, eyes bugging out from getting elbowed in the gut, that anyone else began to figure out what happened.
In another blink, Ma’Quiver disappeared, popping up behind Danjo instead.
“I couldn’t care less what you call it,” Ma’Quiver informed him. “It already has a name: Shanshou-jin. Master Lazlo would have taught you, too, if you’d only stuck around.”
“You bastard!” Danjo blinked again, and so did Ma’Quiver.
They both flickered around the floor, apparently trying to gain the advantage of each other, and at first it looked like a stalemate.
At least until Danjo went sliding across the floor.
“I must say I’m impressed,” Ma’Quiver’s voice as earnest as its sentiment. “Shanshou-jin is not an easy technique to learn, even with someone to teach you. It’s a dangerous move that pushes your time-shifting power to its limit. It’s not something I use on a whim. That you figured it out on your own says much about your potential. A pity you chose to rely on it as a gimmick, instead of furthering your training.”
“Dammit!” Danjo pounded the floor with one fist as he struggled to get back up. “How the fuck can this be? I have five years more experience than you!”
“That may be,” Ma’Quiver replied, “but what have you been doing with all that time? I’m not the little kid you used to bully around anymore.” He gave Danjo a level look, right in the eye. “…The only thing that hasn’t changed is you.”
“I won’t lose…” Danjo snarled, drawing himself up to his knees. “I won’t fucking lose to a stray dog like you!”
“What have you been doing with your life?” Ma’Quiver asked him. “We all touch each of the people we meet, like ripples in a pond. Everywhere I’ve gone, I’ve tried to make anything in the world I touch better than I found it.” He gestured to Max and his friends. “These guys don’t have any rare powers like we do, but they still had the integrity to stand up to you, even knowing what you could do. As Lazlo’s apprentice, I have my own responsibility, Clyde…”
“I… am…” Danjo turned around. “DANJO!!”
In a burst of speed, he came flying at Ma’Quiver.
All in vain, as Ma’Quiver delivered a direct roundhouse kick that sent him crashing through a table to land in a limp heap.
“Clyde!” Felicia screamed, rushing at Ma’Quiver with a knife she pulled from somewhere.
But Shades put out his foot and tripped her, and she fell flat on her face, the knife spinning across the floor, coming to rest under a table somewhere.
“You should have stayed down,” Ma’Quiver said quietly. “Now there’s no dispute over who won. Though I suppose I can’t blame you. After all, mercy is for the weak, right? You can’t afford to waste it holding back against those who are genuinely strong… can you, Danjo? If you take nothing from this fight, remember to show mercy to those weaker than yourself.
“The irony is that I’ll be leaving soon anyway, but these people will expect you to honor your word and leave Para-Para. If you wish to challenge me again, do it somewhere else, and don’t drag anyone else into it. I’ll face you as many times as you want, until you’re satisfied.”
Felicia looked up, glaring first at Shades, then Justin, who could only return her death-rays with a sheepish shrug, before turning away from Ma’Quiver in abject disgust and shame.
Who subsequently staggered over and fell down in the nearest chair still standing.
Max was back on his feet, but much dismayed at the aftermath of Danjo’s rampage.
By now, a sizeable crowd had gathered around the commotion, and once it was clear that the fighting was over, various people moved in to help the injured, clean up, and take Clyde Voidt and his companions into custody.