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Threat Level: E
Destructiveness: E
Killability: D
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Might: F
Survivability: E
Recovery: D
Mobility: E
Spark: D
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Powers: Enhanced Sight and Hearing, Sonic Blasts, Durable Arms, Metabolic Regeneration, Desert Jackal’s Reflexes
Classification: Bruiser/Stalker

“I was hoping you’d show up,” Jose said, shaking Danny’s hand. He looked considerably bigger and less human than the last time Danny had seen him. His shoulders and forearms bulged underneath his black suit. “I was worried when your uncle said you were injured.”

“I was riding past doing deliveries. One of the explosions got me.” The tongue in his right forearm hollow twitched as he gripped Jose’s hand. He guessed what it meant. Kabandha detected essence within Jose. Danny did his best not to think about the subject. Hiding his priorities took priority. He’d worn an old blazer with baggy sleeves, but the garment felt tight around his forearms. “How’re you doing, mate?”

“As well as I can be. Sal was a friend.” He glanced over Danny’s shoulder at the hall’s entrance. “Did you meet his family?”

“Sal always said no one would show up to his funeral,” Danny said.

“But we’ve got three ex-wives and most of his thirteen children welcoming us like we’re family.”

“He might’ve been a grumpy git, but Sal was a good man. I wish I’d been nicer to him the last time we spoke.” Danny sighed. “He noticed the Bruiser classes were getting too much for me and hired someone to cover them. I was angry.”

“Don’t go down that route, Danny,” Kaka said, placing a hand on Danny’s shoulder. “Disappointment is a natural reaction in that situation.” He shook Jose’s hand again. “Thank you for taking the time to invite us. Danny wasn’t handling the news particularly well. To be honest, I was terrified when you showed up at my door. The last time I saw you, you were much smaller.”

“Now I look almost like a rift monster.” Jose chuckled before returning his attention to Danny. “Your reaction is understandable, Danny. I knew Sal for a year. He learned of my situation and referred me to you straight away. The man knew what his members needed and actually cared. You don’t get a lot of that from gym owners.”

Danny moved on to meet other clients he trained, and Kaka followed Jose to the buffet of snack foods. Besides former gym members, Danny saw former super athletes at the funeral, too. It never occurred to him how many people cared about Sal. Names he never expected had trained in the gym, fought him, or studied under the old fighter in the past.

Among the famous figures, a lone mourner in the corner caught Danny’s attention. He was a short man barely taller than Danny’s five-and-a-half feet. He wore his curly black hair in a tight bun and had a complexion common to people from North-East India. His eyes wandered around the room, never pausing on anyone for long. No one would think him special at a glance, but Danny recognised his face. The super’s alter ego dominated HoloScreens regularly. It surprised him more people hadn’t gathered around the man since most of his information was public.

“Excuse me,” Danny said, approaching him. “Aren’t you, Bheem?”

The man smiled, meeting Danny’s eyes. “When I’m in this form, I prefer Pallav. Not many people recognise this face you know.”

“I’ve watched your debut fights and most of everything else, too many times. It always amazed me how you went from an ordinary-looking person like me into the person you play on screen.”

Bheem laughed. “I’m not a League sponsored hero, son. No matter what form I present, I’m still the same person. The different forms have different physical capabilities. That’s all.”

Danny had read the super’s bios more times than he could count. His power let him change his body shape into two forms. One significantly enhanced his strength and durability. While the other amplified speed and his senses. Bheem’s base form—the one he displayed currently—exhibited brilliant self-healing capabilities. No one knew the extent of them since he never pursued a career as a hero, but organisations had to ban him from changing forms between bouts. Otherwise, he’d never go down, recovering from all of his injuries between rounds.

Because of Sal’s popularity followed by Bheem’s, many sporting organisations proposed to the League that they make Shifter an official category. The petition dominated the news feeds for several weeks, but Danny had heard nothing on the subject for close to a year.

“Sorry if I’m bothering you—”

“Are you powerless?” Pallav asked, interrupting him.

“What gave it away?”

“My PR team says I test well among the powerless and especially amongst Indians. That’s what you are, aren’t you?”

Danny nodded, taken aback by the strange question.

“There’s something about ballooning from weakling to an Adonis that appeals to the focus groups. I suppose it's one of those wish-fulfilment fantasies.” Pallav paused, looking Danny up and down. “How did you know Sal?”

“I trained in his gym since childhood and worked in it for the past few years, too,” Danny replied. He didn’t know what to think of Pallav, as his eyes appeared to scrutinise him.

“So you’re a fighter?”

Danny nodded.

“Strange. I wouldn’t think that looking at you. Surprised Sal would hire a powerless for the job, too. You come across more of a ‘sit behind daddy’s takeaway or corner shop with a shotgun under the counter’ type of person.” Pallav chuckled, taking off his jacket. Underneath, he wore a t-shirt starring his speedy form holding a can of X Booster Shot—the leading brand of boosters for speedsters.

“How did you know Sal?” Danny asked, struggling to decide whether he liked the person in front of him. Pallav appeared callous and disinterested in the event.

“He was my trainer in the early days,” Pallav said, turning his attention to the wall of enlarged black and white photos. They featured Sal in his many beastial forms after he’d won a fight. “He was a hardass, and I hated him. The last time we spoke, we fought. The arsehole recorded the conversation and released snippets, claiming I had threatened to murder him. I suppose he felt threatened because I was getting popular.”

“Then why are you here?”

“My agent insisted I make an appearance.”

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A note from J Pal

Given the confusion with how Jose is walking out in the open, I'm uploading the second part of the chapter in advance. 


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J Pal

  • London

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