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"What in the fuck is this shit?" Will asked, watching the lone, hobbling figure approaching TK Gabriel in the arena. Will's brother stood at his side, visibly uncomfortable, his hand resting on the gun slung over his shoulder like he was expecting something to go wrong at any moment. "Stuart?"

"Fuck if I know," he said. Will suspected that his brother knew, though. Nothing that Branch did was ever too far from Stuart or Viktor, them both standing as silent guards watching while he ruled over the kingdom inside of his high rise like a maniac.

"Oh, this is too much," Branch said. "Just look at him, my god."

"Who's the cunt?" Will asked.

"Oh, Mr. Farrington, if you only knew the delight that I'm taking in this. The sheer, utter delight. Wait, what is he doing?" Branch's face turned flush, turning to Viktor, who shrugged, then to Stuart. "What the fuck is he doing?"

"Looks pissed," Will said.

"Real fuckin' pissed," Stuart said. "Looks like he's scaling the wall, innit he?"

"Where are my guards?" Branch was growing nervous. "Get everyone out there, stop him! Stop him now!"

Guards poured out from the side doors on the arena floor, Branch shouting at them to take him out no matter what, but Gabriel was climbing his way up through the crowd in the bleachers, climbing up step by step with crowds gathering around him. The guards hesitated, refusing to fire up into the crowd of people while Branch was pacing around in the box.

"No, no!" He shouted. "Shoot him, I don't care about the damage, shoot him now!"

"Awright mistah Branch, we gotta get yer ass outta here," Stuart said.

"No, I refuse to back down," he said. "I refuse to let TK Gabriel win. I will not run away from him. I'm staying right here."

Branch moved towards the front of the box, stewing inside of his suit at the guards who stood dumbfounded, slamming his fists down on the edge while he watched Gabriel climb up the bleachers unimpeded, a man on a mission. Will turned to his brother, who was standing there with a sullen look on his face. Something was very wrong. "Who the fuck was that?"

"That was..." Stuart eyeballed Branch and turned to his brother, whispering into his ear. "His fuckin' dead wife."

"What, how?"

"One-uh his fuckin' experiment er sumtin."

"You takin' the piss outta me?"

"No."

Both brothers stood in silence while Branch raged at anyone that would listen to him. The crowd was in an uproar and the figure that was apparently Gabriel's wife stood frozen in the arena; guards keeping a safe distance from her. Crusher was one of Branch's experiments, and Will knew all too well what kind of power he had possessed. From what he understood, the Crusher was alive when they started experimenting on him, but Gabriel's wife had been dead. Long dead. Branch's power was far beyond what any human being should possess. He was a madman through and through.

"C'mon you piece of shit," Branch said towards the approaching Gabriel. "I fucking dare you to come at me. I dare you."

"Sut up. I'm going to fucking kill you," Gabriel shouted over the crowd.

"Yeah, I dare you to. C'mon."

Things had escalated and felt beyond anyone's control, just Branch begging Gabriel to attack him. Branch turned back towards Stuart and Viktor, nodding at them only to turn around to see Gabriel pulling himself up into the box, a few of the spectators helping to push him up over the barrier. Gabriel spilled over the wall, almost knocking Branch over as if it wasn't for Viktor and Stuart catching him and keeping him on his feet. Will froze in place, watching Gabriel scramble to his feet and lunge at Branch. His fist connected on Branch's jaw, sending him crashing into his throne, chaos erupting all around them.

For the first time since he had arrived at Branch Tower, Jordan Branch was not in control. He was mortal, scared, and vulnerable. Will and Gabriel locked eyes for a moment, Will seeing the hurt through the veil of rage that encompassed him, freezing him in place. At that moment, they understood each other. They were both cut from the same cloth, both experiencing the same hurt and stuck on the hamster wheel Branch had laid out for them. Vera was right, of course. That stung him something deep, considering how he often dismissed her advice. None of that mattered now, though, amidst the chaos.

Viktor had lept over Branch and jumped onto Gabriel, raining down blows to his ribs while he lay on the ground. Branch was holding onto his jaw, a look of disbelief and panic painted on his face, pressing Stuart forward. "Get him out of here," Branch barked at Stuart. "Back down to his cell!"

Stuart froze in place, Viktor looking up at him, giving Gabriel an opening to push the blonde sociopath off of him and into Branch. Gabriel's elbow arced up from his downed position, landing flush on Viktor's groin, him howling out loudly while Gabriel pulled himself back up to his feet. Stuart moved into action, driving a knee into Gabriel's midsection. Gabriel staggering back against the barrier, almost tumbling out of the skybox into the throngs of the crowd that were watching in stunned silence. Stuart dashed towards him again, Gabriel sidestepping him and sending him crashing ribs-first into the railing, Gabriel driving his elbow into Stuart's spine, Stuart letting out a bloodcurdling scream.

Viktor was in a blind rage, fists flying at Gabriel but missing by a sound margin. Gabriel looked focused, harnessing his rage while he dodged Viktor's looping overhands. When Gabriel's left leg darted out, Will gasped, his shin contacting Viktor's ribs, his body flying back towards the rear of the box before landing on the ground, convulsing. Stuart stumbled towards Gabriel, priming his leg back to land a kick on him before looking over at Will and their eyes locking again. Will's eyes were pleading with him not to hurt his brother, but before he could say anything, Gabriel just gave him a slight nod, taking Stuart by the nape of his neck and tossing him over the railing into the crowd.

"Somebody stop him," Branch cried out.

"That's my fucking wife," Gabriel growled. "What did you do to her?"

"Will," Gabriel turned to Will like a deer in the headlights. "For fuck's sake, Will, end this madman."

"That was fucked up what you did, Mr. Branch," Will said.

"We can debate moral minutiae later!"

"What did you do to her?" Gabriel was standing over Branch, the magnate’s back pressed up against his own opulent throne.

"I thought that you'd be pleased to see her again," Branch said, was attempting to regain his composure.

"No one told you to play god, Branch."

"But I am the closest damned thing, you mongrel." Branch pushed back, only for Gabriel to slam Branch's head against the back of the chair.

"I held you responsible for her death from day one. You killed the world."

"I... I didn't kill the world, the world killed itself. I was the man everyone blamed, the fall guy for generations of hostilities and misunderstandings. Humanity killed itself."

"You just pulled the trigger, is that it?"

"Yes, and now what? You are going to end me, end the world's wrongs and usher in a new era of peace?"

"No," Gabriel said. "I'll end you and leave this abomination. They're all complicit in your twisted kingdom. You deserve to—"

A shot rang out from inside of the small box, Will's ears ringing while he watched Gabriel recoil, clutching at his side. He fell over in a heap while Viktor struggled to pick himself up, smoking gun in his hand.

"Thank you, Viktor," Branch let out a sigh of relief. "I fear he was about to make a fool of himself there. Viktor, escort him back to his cell and find Stuart while you are at it."

Viktor was still in pain, but nodded at Branch, grasping onto Gabriel's right boot—the one without the charged weapon—and dragged him towards the door, leaving a trail of smeared blood behind him. "What the fuck?" Will muttered under his breath.

"I know you are injured, Mr. Farrington," Branch straightened himself out. "But I expected better of you."

"You didn't have to do that to his wife."

"That's where you are wrong," he said. "Go collect your brother, would you?"

"Aye," Will said, turning away from Branch, who sunk back into his throne.

"And the next time I expect you to be more grateful."

"Aye," Will said, not turning back to look at him as he followed the trail of blood out of the box.

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About the author

dvewlsh

Bio: I used to write about professional kickboxing. Trust me, I was good. Now I write science fiction.

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