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Part 5 -- Inside Henchmen Tryouts Gym. Shrek couldn’t believe it, but somehow he managed to stagger Bowser. One last punch to the big oaf's snout was enough to send him backwards into the wrestling ring ropes and rebound to the mat. The crowd, full of wannabe henchmen, had finally turned against him and cheered ‘Ogre! Ogre! Ogre!’. Their excitement was palpable. Shrek could feel their energy and it made the pain in his knuckles and face lessen. He roared to the crowd, feeding off their energy and made their cheers grow louder. He saw Bowser move out of the corner of his eye, beginning to rouse. “Oh no you don’t,” said Shrek as he reached for his opponent’s leg. In seconds, he had him locked into a one-legged Boston crab. The big turtle howled in pain as he clawed at the mat, trying desperately to reach the ropes to give himself leverage and break the hold. But Shrek’s grip was firm and held him in place. "Ya like that ya big--" He started to mock until Bowser pushed up off the mat. The strength surprised him. He had more in the tank than he was letting on. So Shrek focused, tightening his hold and sat down to increase the pressure. The strain was too much however, and he broke wind. The fart carried with it a green mist that wafted under Bowser’s nose. The big oaf went limp. He dropped back to the mat, wheezing and coughing. "Oh please noooo! The smell! Make it stop!" Shrek let go of the hold and watched the big guy roll around the mat in agony. "You just got Shrek’d!” He said then laughed. He turned to face the crowd who weren’t amused, just disgusted. “Get it? Shrek’d? Oh, nevermind.” He waved them off as Bowser managed to crawl to the corner of the ring. “So, are we done now?” Shrek asked. "Yes!" Said Bowser, breathing out of his mouth. "Well then," Shrek wiped his hands clean and dusted off his shabby vest. "Looks like you're paying for my way home." There was a long pause between them, then Bowser picked himself up to his knees and buried his face in his hands. Shrek heard the sound of whimpering. "Oh. Are… you crying? Oh come on. There's no crying in wrestling!" Well now I feel bad. He placed a hand on the big oaf’s shoulder. "Look buddy, you're a tough guy. Don’t let this get ya down. Come on, people are watching.” Shrek pointed out the crowd to Bowser, whose expression seemed like he hadn’t realized they were even there. “I’m sure they’re still afraid of ya, too.” He added encouragingly. "You really think so?" Bowser said, wiping away his tears. He didn’t see Shrek cringe when he replied, "Yeaaah. And you know what I bet they respect you too." "Really?" Bowser’s demeanor started to brighten up. “Yeah. So, how about you keep your word like the respectable, terrifying turtle you are and send me on my way?” "My word? Oh--" Bowser let himself be helped to his feet. "I need to get back to my swamp and I got to pay to use one of those portal… things." Shrek said. "But,” Bowser gave him a wide-eyed look. “You'd make such a great henchmen. Why leave when you could work for me!?" Shrek put his hand up, rejecting the idea. "I don’t work for anyone other than me and my own. So if you could please--" "But, I have no money…" Bowser admitted. Shrek couldn’t believe what he just heard. Did he really have no money? Looking at the crowd of would-be grunts, they didn’t seem too surprised by this revelation. Why do all of this if he didn’t have money in the first place? He exhaled in frustration, “Oh come on! You have to be kidding me? All of that fighting and you were just bluffing?” Bowser placed his hand on Shrek’s shoulder this time, “Look, I didn’t expect anyone to actually beat me. I was just recruiting for a big job I have here in Verse City. The money was going to come after. But I understand, you want to go home. I can help.” “Forgive me for not exactly believing you.” Shrek removed the hand. “And you could have started with that.” Bowser waved for him to follow outside the ring. “All my riches are back home in the Mushroom Kingdom. There, we use what is called warp pipes. That’s how I traveled here. They work better than those over-priced portals out on the street anyway.” “And it can take me back to my swamp?” Shrek asked. “Yes,” came the reply. He considered this. It sounded far fetched, but he didn’t have much choice in the matter. This was his best shot at getting home. The audience parted as the two exited the gym. They walked through double doors, following down winding hallways until they reached another door. This one was guarded by several little people made up of only faces and feet. Shrek thought they looked like mushrooms. With a flick of Bowser’s wrist, the guards open the door and move aside for them to enter. Shrek followed him into what looked to be some kind of underground cellar that was being used as a base of operations. It was big and spacious, with more of those mushroom guards wandering around. Shrek immediately saw the pipe. It was a large green tunnel sticking straight out of the floor. “Portals in and out of Verse City are controlled by the city.” The big oaf explained. “This one is mine and they don’t know about it. I’d like to keep it that way.” “Sure but... I’m just supposed to slide down this pipe?” Shrek asked, inspecting the pipe closely. Bowser leaned up against the pipe like he was cool and wasn’t just crying like a child minutes ago. “Like you said, I keep my word.” Shrek gave him another disbelieving glare, “How about you go first? I’m pipe shy.” “Fine. Let me show you.” Bowser agreed as he jumped on top of the pipe then slid down. After a couple of seconds, the ogre followed. He couldn’t explain the strange sensation that came with traveling between worlds, he only knew that it seemed both instantaneous and perpetual. When he came out the other side, Shrek found that he was not back in his swamp. This world was colorful and filled with castles and fluffy clouds and mushrooms and bricks and-- CHOMP! “AAAHH!” Shrek shrieked in pain. A potted plant now attached to his arm with sharp teeth. He tried to yank it off but he couldn’t get a good grip on the thing. It was alive, this piranha plant. Shrek fell to his knees but not before seeing Bowser standing over him, wearing the biggest grin on his face. “Haha! You're a bigger fool than that plumber! I never keep my word!” Bowser’s foot connected with Shrek’s jaw. A blow strong enough to send the piranha plant across the floor and put Shrek down for good. The last thing he’d see was Bowser walking back through the pipe. “Good luck getting home, loser!” ___________________________________ “Hey!” A voice cut through the dark of unconsciousness. “Hey, Vern!” “Ya best be getting on up now!” the voice shouted again.. Light finally caught Shrek’s eyes. He awoke with his head and arm throbbing. Standing over him where that bastard Bowser used to be was now a gangly human with an incredibly stretchy face and big eyes. “Come on, Vern! We need to get outta here, ya hear?” “Where am I?” Shrek asked, sitting up to rub his head. He quickly noticed they were in the world that Bowser led him too. “I’ll tell ya later. First, ma name’s Ernest P. Worrell. It’s a pleasure to meet ya. Second, we’re sittin’ ducks if we don’t high tail it outta here!” “What do you mean?” Shrek asked. Ernest turned around to show the ogre just what he meant. In the distance, those little mushroom people were racing toward them. “They won’t stop chasing me, Vern!” Realizing the danger, Shrek jumped to his feet. He felt flush for a moment but recovered. His jaw was sore but intact. And his arm was stiff but he could move it fine. Looks like this Ernest bandaged him up while he was out. Looking around, the pipe was gone. No way back home. Or back to Verse City. This was turning into another shitty adventure, wasn’t it? “We find shelter… there.” Shrek pointed out the castle far past the oncoming enemies. “Oh but, that’s so far away.” Ernest said. “Trust me. We want to go to the castle. It’s how you finish a quest. Come on, fella.” Shrek said, leading the way toward the castle. ____________________
Part 1 --In the locker room of the Grand Cross-Galactic Budokai Tenkaichi Arena The medical droid removed the last bit of shrapnel from Shrek’s back. "Watch it will ya? Ow!" It wasn’t deep, but damn if it didn’t hurt. "My apologies, sir,” the medical droid said. “This unit wishes no harm to you. My primary purpose is rehabilitation of contestants.” "Well, I'm not feeling rehabilitated and I’m not a contestant anymore, now am I?" Shrek tried to turn around to smack the little robot but the ache of his body and the bandages wrapped around his torso hindered him. "The GCGBTC extends--” “The what?” Shrek interrupted. “The GCGBTC, an acronym for Grand Cross-Galactic Budokai Tenkaichi Committee,” it explained. “They are the organizers for the tournament and were the ones that contacted you requesting your participation.” “Oh, well why didn’t you say so?” Shrek rolled his head, sarcasm dripping in his tone. “That makes perfect sense.” “I’m glad to hear that, sir. As I was saying, the GCGBTC extends medical care to all participants. It is our wish that you leave here with the best--" "Yeah yeah." Shrek stood as the droid finished patching him up. "Just give me my reward so I can be on my way.” Shrek couldn’t remember how he’d gotten here or why he’d decided to participate in this dumb tournament. But what he did remember was someone had told him he’d get a monetary reward for participating and a wish granted if he won. Either way, he would get something out of this whole ordeal. The droid didn’t hesitate, responding, "Right this way, sir." Shrek followed the mouthy robot through the locker room as he tightened the towel around his waist. He looked around as he walked, searching for any signs of the woman who beat him in the tournament. He’d have liked to give her a piece of his mind before leaving. If she were unarmed of course… Other competitors sat around tending to their wounds, some by themselves and others with aid from robots. A young girl was bandaging herself up in a corner alone. Apparently she had refused the complementary medical service. A man with considerably broad shoulders stood in his own corner with two tournament officials. He held a straight posture despite the evidence of pain he must have been in. His clothes were torn in places and he had a few burns on the bare skin that Shrek could see. He remembered this guy had gone up against a kid that could control monsters. He’d lost quickly in that match and he didn’t look happy about it. At least he was saying as much to the officials standing in front of him. “Creatures should not be allowed in battle. What honor is there having pets do your fighting? Tell me!” But that wasn’t any of Shrek’s business. He continued out the locker room, following the droid until he reached the arena clerk to be paid for his participation. *** Wrapping up her arm, Vin watched the green ogre leave the locker room following behind a short robot doctor. She recalled declining to speak with the weird thing when it offered to give her medical aid. Vin was more than capable of taking care of herself. That said, Vin’s bell was still rung. The dizziness she felt was gone, replaced by a headache just behind her eyelids. Her vision became spotted as she finished wrapping her last wound. Her fight with, what was his name? Spider-Man? He’d sounded like a joke, but the kid wasn’t messing around. She was still gauging his strength in the ring when he surprised her with some kind of electric shock. It dropped her guard and left her open. Spider-Man webbed her to the wall and that was it. She kept playing the fight over in her head, thinking about every mistake she’d made. Her stupid mistakes costed her and now she’d have to return home with nothing. She rested her head on the steel lockers, hoping the cool metal would soothe her head. What am I going to tell Elend? ‘Sorry, I didn’t win so our world is doomed?’ She still couldn’t recall how she’d gotten to the tournament, but she remembered agreeing to it. With what they were promising her, she couldn’t turn it down. Thinking about it made her head hurt worse. She focused on the pewter still in her system, burning just enough to weaken the drum in her head. Better to leave some in case she needed it. She considered burning more when the other contestant in the locker room started yelling again, “Clearly, you don’t make the decisions around here. I have no need for you!” Vin had ignored his outbursts earlier, but now he seemed like he was done arguing. The man gripped the organizers in each hand and threw them into the far wall, cracking stone. She could hear their bones snap. Vin, taking mental stock of her metals, observed the man now floating in the air. She heard the organizers call him M. Bison before he decided to smash their heads in. Bison’s pupiless eyes found hers, sending a chill down her back. “Ah, Venture was it? Tell me, did I scare you just now?” Vin couldn’t explain it, but she could feel his power. His purple aura surrounded him as it drew further out into the locker room. He landed on his feet again and approached her slowly. “No.” Vin burned her bronze to see if the power she felt from him was allomancy, but no result. Bison wasn’t an allomancer. He was something else. “You certainly seem the contrary. I will make you an offer. You have talent for someone so young,” Bison said, raising his hand to her. “Join me. I have plans to claim this arena for myself. You could stand by my side.” “You do realize they’re going to send security? I think they can handle you.” Bison’s grin turned into a frown. “But what about you? Can you really afford to deny me?” Vin braced herself, but just as Bison took another step, the locker room door opened. *** Shrek felt exposed as he loomed over the female clerk’s window. She was small, even for human standards, and staring intently at her computer. “Hello,” he said, “So, question. How do I get home? I don’t remember how I got here.” He had tried to ask the droid the same question before it scampered off, but he couldn’t get a word in edgewise with it droning on about regulations and the history of this place. The clerk giggled at his question, but didn’t look up from her computer screen. Shrek almost thought it was cute. But it made him miss his wife, Fiona, back home. And that’s where he wanted to be. “Look, I got places to be, lady.” “It's best not to ask too many questions, Mr. Shrek,” she said. “The GCGBT Arena likes to keep its secrets, ya know? We don’t even fully understand how it works.” “It’s just Shrek. Mr. Shrek was my father,” he corrected her. “And what do you mean it has secrets? It’s a building.” “I’m not at liberty to say, sir. I’m just told to respect the building and keep my badge on at all times.” Shrek read her badge. Julie Dressa. GCGBTA Clerk. Nothing unusual about that. But hadn’t he heard that name before? Had the droid told him? He looked up and down the hallway and realized he was having a hard time recognizing anything he saw. The hall was littered with items that he knew, but the names escaped him. The clerk cleared her throat. She was smiling up at him and holding out a slip of paper. “Here’s your check. It’ll auto-deposit into your world’s currency when you get home.” “Home… right. But how do I--” “Follow the blue arrows until you reach a transfer box.” She pointed left down a curved corridor. “Anyway, just step inside and you’ll be home. You won’t remember how you got there, so expect some significant confusion. Your body will be altered to its original state. I’d advise taking it easy for the next twenty-four hours.” Okay, now she was starting to sound like the droid. Shrek took the check but hesitated. “And… if I don’t? What will happen?” “Just take it easy, sir. The body can only endure so much trauma, ya know? The effects of the transfer box linger, so you’re going to be uncomfortable for a spell.” Shrek forced a smile back and followed the blue arrows, hoping he could walk off the chill down his spine. After a few minutes, he finally saw what the clerk had described, a booth with a curtain drawn on each side. The dead giveaway was the large print reading ‘Transfer Box’. Shrek drew back the curtain and squeezed inside. He really didn’t know what to do after that. Shrek had never been in a booth because he’d never found one big enough. This one fit surprisingly well, he realized. Inside the booth, the walls were covered with safety tips, most of which Shrek ignored. At the bottom of the long list were two buttons. A blue button that read ‘Home’. A red button that read ‘Verse City’. “Well, that really narrows it down,” Shrek said. He went to press the home button, but a loud sound thudded outside the booth. He peeked his head out and noticed he was next to the doors of the locker room he’d left earlier. Strange, he thought. He had walked quite a ways from where he started. Looking at the locker room, Shrek remembered he was only wearing a towel and bandages. His shirt had been riddled with bullet holes and blood, so he had tossed it. His pants and boots were fine, but he had forgotten them after taking the shower they recommended. The droid said it wasn’t because of his ‘odor’, but for the healing properties the water had. Yeah, right. It was best to go back for his things. He could grab them quickly and satisfy his curiosity about the sound at the same time. He was sure he could find his way back to the booth anyway. *** Vin braced herself, but just as Bison took another step, the locker room door opened. The green ogre entered gingerly despite his size, but froze when she and Bison noticed him. He met her eyes first, then saw the two figures crumbled on the floor. “Sorry, just came back for--” the ogre started to say, but was cut off as Bison’s purple aura flung him into the adjacent lockers. Vin rushed to help him, but her heavy feet wouldn’t move. This was the second time she’d been surprised today. Bison seemed pleased with himself, the edges of his mouth creasing into a grin. “What were you saying about security?” Vin threw her bag at her side, metal coins scattering the air between herself and Bison. She burned steel, hurtling coins towards him. ____________________________________
Part 2 --In the locker room of the Grand Cross-Galactic Budokai Tenkaichi Arena-- M.Bison’s grip tightened around Vin’s neck, pushing her further into the crumbled heep of a locker. "Game over-" blood spilled from his grin. He held his side with his other hand where Vin's coin had struck him. He wasn't sure how she could move metal, and he didn't care. She was dead. Vin gagged a faint breath as Bison braced himself to finish the job. That was until Shrek's pair of tree trunk-like arms wrapped themselves around Bison's head. Shrek, who'd been tossed around for the last minute and a half by Bison, finally got the upper hand and reared Bison off of Vin. He pulled him back a few paces, holding him with massive ogre strength. But Bison did not submit. He sent fist and elbows to Shrek's face and midsection. Little by little, his hold loosened giving Bison leverage to escape. In desperation, Shrek let out his ogre roar. Bison broke the hold but being so close, he absorbed much of the sound. "GAHHH!" M.Bison reached for his ears as they started to bleed. Shrek fell backwards after his roar, but used the back wall to steady himself. The struggle had exhausted him, but he wasn't about to give up. Before he could go at Bison any further, the doors of the locker room busted open. In quick succession, arena security separated the three of them and cuffed them with energy binders. It took five guards to stop the fight. *** "And stay out!" The security officer shouted at the trio as they were forcibly removed from the arena grounds. They stumbled past the open gate as it slammed shut behind them. "Well…" Shrek said, speaking to himself instead of the others. He was trying to gather his thoughts on what just happened. Security had come, but the rest of it was a blur. He wasn't in any pain from the fight and his proper clothes replaced the towel that was at his waist. How'd they do that without him noticing? Shrek turned to others, "How 'bout lunch?" He decided it was better to just to forget the whole ordeal and make friendly. He could see M.Bison, in full garb and cape, walking down the street already. And the girl, Vin, took out a coin and dropped it to the ground. She suddenly sprang into the air, leaving Shrek behind. Now he was alone. And the city before him was massive. Bigger than anything he'd ever seen, with more lights and people than he'd ever seen. Honestly, he couldn't look away. There were humans and children, animals that were like people and animals like pets. Strange looking people with odd colors. And they all mingled together on the street, in shops and in vehicles. Shrek had the feeling he wasn't going to stand out here. With little choice, he decided to venture out into the city. Verse City, a name he read on several screens and buildings. Strange name for a place, but no stranger than that arena he supposed. Walking down the concrete road told him more about this place. A stack of papers being pulled from the back of a truck read, 'Verse City Gazette' with the headline, 'Pop Culture Icon Apollo Creed Runs for District Mayor!' Before he could read more, two people grabbed a newspaper each. "So why don't you just tell her how you feel?" said the blue skinned avian to an upright wolf companion. "It's not so easy, Garrus. We're not even the same species-" the upright wolf responded. They walked past Shrek who was eavesdropping. "That's the best part. Me and this woman, Terra--" the one called Garrus responded back. The rest of his words drowned out by the roar of a siren somewhere. This world was too stimulating. The growl of his stomach became another distraction. "Oh boy, really?" When was the last time he ate? At home? Fiona! Shrek searched his person for the check that the arena clerk gave him. His hands turned up empty. He must have dropped it in the locker room… He turned towards the arena gate, it was impossibly tall. No way he was getting back in there. But he needed a way home somehow. Shrek ran over to the duo with the newspaper, catching their attention with a green hand on their shoulders. "Excuse me, sorry. Do either of you, um, gentlemen happen to know how I can get home? I'm not from here." Garrus and the wolf man looked at him confused, but spoke with a casual demeanor. "No problem, most of us aren't. There are vortex points that take people to and from the city. There are access points every couple of blocks to portal you home." "Thank…you?" Despite his confusion, Shrek carried along in the direction Garrus pointed him. He walked down two streets and passed many strange buildings names until he found a corner that read 'Central Manhattan Vortex' and underneath it 'Access Point XC.52' He went inside only to be turned away a few minutes later. Can't use the portal without money. Shrek gave the employees a piece of his mind, but he walked away before causing too much of a scene. Last thing he wanted was a fight. Instead, he continued further into the city. If he can get some quick cash, he'd be back home in no time. Looking for options, he found two wanted signs across the street from each other. 'Henchmen Wanted!' Tryouts Today!' 'Hiring now for Mr. Clean's Cleaning Crew! Looking for hard working citizens!' Shrek met eyes with a bald white guy standing outside the cleaning crew sign. The guy, apparently called Mr. Clean, smiled and thumbed toward the inside of his shop. His eyes alone were enough to make Shrek uncomfortable. Shrek decided that he wanted none of that, and turned inside the door with the other wanted sign. "Bwah-ha!" A gutteral laugh shook Shrek as he entered. The room was large. Strange characters littered the place with quite a few of them unconscious on the floor. They surrounded the middle where a raised wrestling ring stood. A hulking turtle creature was alone in the ring, bellowing. "None of you are fit to lick my boots, much less compete against Mario!" "Um, hello?" Shrek said, speaking over the group. "Wondering if you would lend an ogre a favor? Need some money for that portal thing--" "You!" The beast in the wrestling ring leaned over the ropes, pointing directly at Shrek. "Get in here! If you want money, you gotta earn it!" Shrek was intimidated by this guy. It was rare he met people his size… or bigger. But to get home to Fiona, he'd have to bite the bullet. "Alright I'll knock ya one. And when I do, I'm heading back home. And you're paying for it!" Shrek shoulder bumped every guy on his way to the ring. He pulled his way up, slid through the ropes and stood toe-to-toe with the big guy. He could feel the intense heat coming from this guy's grin. "Kick his ass, Bowser!" Someone in the crowd said. Bowser chuckles. "When I knock you down, you'll be standing back up as my henchmen!" Shrek cracked his knuckles, "We'll be seeing about that." ____________________________________