"Who are you?" asks Wukong of the individual with long black hair who is lying on the ground, and who has just regained consciouness.

The answer comes in Chinese. "My name is Fa Xing-la," the individual lying there answers. "And that is all you get. I have given him the boon he asked for," says Bravo, much more loudly. "We're done, here." Then replaces the helmet, then rises, unsteadily, and walks away, ignoring all attempts to assist.
That name...

A clone? No, probably not that, ...a replacement?
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She sits in the unlit workout room, bent over, hands clasped before her forehead. One of her friends used to sit like this while trying to come to terms with what he'd seen and done on his missions. Trouble understands him better than she did then.

She was in the audience when the helmet of her nemesis came off and she saw ... not her own face, but one so close to it as to take her breath away, and she has not quite recaptured it yet. And she heard Bravo's claim of identity. It's been years since she thought of her parents, who named her Fa Xing-la and lived happily, she thought, in Hong Kong. That is how she has always thought of the start of her story.

But is it her story?

If you replace every plank of the Ship of Theseus with new planks, is it still the ship of Theseus? If you replace every part of a human being with circuits and nanotechnology, are they still that human being? Were they ever? If you wanted to make a living weapon who could exist among humans, for whatever reason, would you give them memories of a human life, whether true or false? And how would they ever know the difference?

She pulls out her smartphone and dials the only number saved on it.

"Trouble?" asks the voice on the other end. "Are you okay?"

"Sam," she says. "How often do you think about your parents?"

"I -- uh -- almost every day, I guess. Why?" There's a bit more urgency in the tone on the other end, now.

Trouble takes a deep breath. "Just wondering," she says, in as calm a tone as she can manage. "I'll be home in a couple of days, I hope. I just wanted to hear your voice." A beat. "I love you."

"I love you, too. Are you sure you're okay?"

She decides to speak the truth for once. "No." And then she hangs up and turns off the phone.


The disgusted expression on the face of Amari as they approach each other for this penultimate match comes as something of a surprise to Trouble, but she doesn't get the chance to ask what prompted it.

"You know, I was actually looking forward to this," Amari says. "I don't actually like fighting. Really, I don't. Nobody ever believes me when I tell them this. But a nice, friendly sparring match with one of the best in the world, an actual genuine world-saving superhero? That sounded like fun, and I haven't had any fun here since I got to beat up that slave-chaser with his own stupid axe.

"But then I see you using theonite to win a fist-fight! You risk giving someone radiation poisoning for this?" Amari waves a hand around to indicate the arena as a whole. "For the entertainment of all these perverts?"

Trouble opens her mouth to say something in response. Whatever it was going to be, she stifles it, and closes her mouth again with an unhappy expression on her face.

"No defense? Good. Fine. You are no superhero. So I'm looking forward to this for another reason now." And as if she timed it to the second, and maybe she did, the buzzer sounds just as Amari delivers that declaration, following it up with a lightning fast spin kick to Trouble's side. Her opponent winces but makes no cry, only stepping back a few paces, thickening her skin and assuming a guarded stance.

Not a sufficiently protective guard stance, unfortunately, for Amari's next uppercut cleaves right through it, slamming into Trouble's stomach, then following it up with a powerful kick. Through it all, Trouble just maintains her defenses, soaking up the blows that rain down on her, never offering any protest or counterattack.

That detail does not escape Amari's notice, and at last, she finds that she can't help herself. "What are you doing?" she asks. "Why aren't you fighting back? Are you -- are you trying to make me look like the bad guy here?"

Trouble just sighs.

"You are! Cut it out! Fight back, dammit!" With that, she drives a punch towards Trouble's nose, with the force of a locomotive.

Locomotives can't usually be caught in a handclap, though. "All right," Trouble says, and becomes a blur of motion. Her knee comes up to slam into Amari's ribcage, knocking the wind out of her lungs, then swiveling around to slam one firm wrist into Amari's unguarded flank, following it up with an eerie echo of the blow to the nose that started this flurry -- but one that strikes home.

"You were right," says Trouble to Amari's supine form. "I hope you find some comfort in that when you wake up." Her gaze jerks up as Thunder Dragon starts his usual spiel, and the glare she gives him almost makes him hesitate to ask the question. She answers it, sort of, by holding up four fingers and then lowering three.

The final confrontation is here at last.

Side B Final: Amari vs. Trouble

Amari: Initiative +16, Unarmed +10 (Damage DC 23), Bullet Throw +8 (Damage DC 19), Shockwave (Burst Area Dodge DC 23), Dodge 8 (DC 18), Parry 8 (DC 18), Fortitude 10, Toughness 12, Will 8, Acrobatics +9, Athletics +10, Insight +7.
Hero Points: 2
Extraordinary Effort, Power Attack.

Trouble: Initiative +13, Unarmed +14 (Close Damage DC 21, Crit 18-20), Dodge 12 (22), Parry 12 (22), Fortitude 8, Toughness 10/5, Will 9, Acrobatics +11, Athletics +12, Insight +12, Intimidation +9.
Hero Points: 1
Agile Feint, All-out Attack, Assessment, Evasion, Fearless 2, Power Attack.

Turn 1: Amari 32, Trouble 19

Amari makes a +2/-2 All-out Attack.

Attack Roll 1d20+10+2=31 vs. Parry DC 22; Hit.
Toughness 1d20+10=21 vs. Damage DC 23; Bruised.

Trouble changes her Technomorph as a Free Action, and then Defends.

Heavy: Enhanced Strength 7; Enhanced Advantages 4 (Fast Grab, Improved Grab, Improved Hold, Improved Smash); Protection 6, Impervious 10; Strength-based Damage 1 - 35 points

Parry 1d20+10=13+10=23

Turn 2: Amari 30, Trouble 15

Amari makes another +2/-2 All-out Attack.

Attack Roll 1d20+10+2=29 vs. Parry 23; Hit
Toughness 1d20+11-1=23 vs. Damage DC 23; Bruised

Trouble Defends.

Parry 1d20+10=26

Turn 3: Amari 36, Trouble 7

Amari makes a +2/-2 All-out Attack as a Surprise Attack.

Attack Roll 1d20+10+2=32 vs. Parry DC 18; Crit
Toughness 1d20+11-1=15; Reroll
Toughness 1d20+11-1=29 vs. Damage DC 28; Bruised

Trouble Defends.

Parry 1d20+10=18+10=28

Turn 4: Amari 32, Trouble 5

Attack Roll 1d20+10+2=22; Reroll
Attack Roll 1d20+10+2=21+10-31 vs. Parry DC 28; Hit
Toughness 1d20+11-1=23 vs. Damage DC 23; Bruised.

Trouble Defends.

Parry 1d20+10=30

Turn 5: Amari 31, Trouble 7

Attack Roll 1d20+10+2=20; Reroll
Attack Roll 1d20+10+2=19+10=29 vs. Parry DC 30

Trouble makes a Riposte.

Attack Roll 1d20+10=21 vs. Parry DC 16; Hit
Toughness 1d20+12=18 vs. Damage DC 26; Bruised, Dazed

Trouble makes a +2/-2 Power Attack.

Attack Roll 1d20+10-2=16 vs. Parry DC 16; Hit
Toughness 1d20+12-1=15 vs. Damage DC 28; Bruised 2, Staggered.

Using extra effort, Trouble makes another +2/-2 Power Attack.

Attack Roll 1d20+10-2=23 vs. Parry DC 16; Hit
Toughness 1d20+12-2=17 vs. Damage DC 28; Bruised 3, Staggered 2=Incapacitated

Victor: Trouble


And so the penultimate match began, to determine which of the two surviving fighters would get the chance to fight Thunder Dragon and possibly be granted their wish. From one side of the arena, Trouble entered, poorly hiding her continuing upset regarding her supposed triumph and what it had cost her, as well as the identity-shattering experience that had come before that. From the other side, Wukong entered, poorly hiding his unhappiness over what he'd endured in the matches leading to this point. They walked towards each other, meeting in the middle, as the final countdown began.

"I watched your fight with the one called Amari," Wukong said when they met -- for the first time, actually, as they had never exchanged words before that.

"Do you think I'm a monster, too?" said Trouble.

The monkey king shook his head. "I think you are a person who made a difficult choice, one that will continue to weigh on you. If you were a monster, it would not do so. And much like my student, you are a better person than you believe yourself to be. Yes, you are the embodiment of science and technology, but you are more than that."

Somewhat surprisingly, Trouble smiled. "And you are a legend come to life, but you are more than that." And then a thought came to her, and her smile went away. "And forces that unite ..."

Understanding quickly appeared on Wukong's face. "... are stronger than those who stand alone."

They had remembered something that those watching this, both in the arena and elsewhere, had perhaps forgotten. They weren't just martial artists. They were superheroes. And this wasn't a fighting game, however much it might have looked like one. It was something else entirely. As the clock counted down the final seconds, they nodded to each other.

The buzzer sounded, and in the same moment, they both said, "I surrender."

In his box, overlooking this, Thunder Dragon came swiftly to his feet. "What --"

"You surrendered, so I am the winner," said Wukong. "I ask of you this boon: will you fight at my side in this?"

"You surrendered, so I am the winner," said Trouble. "I ask of you this boon: will you fight at my side in this?"

"Yes," the two of them said as one.

"What are you two trying to pull --"

And as one, they turned to look up at Thunder Dragon. "We challenge you -- coward."

Heroes have an infinite capacity for stupidity. Thus are legends born.


At first, he is just bewildered that the two so-called heroes have decided to play some sort of insipid game by mutually surrendering in this manner. Despite what they say next, that means that neither of them is the winner, and the show is over. And then they turn and call him a coward.

They call him that.

Thunder Dragon's response is relatively moderate, all things considered. He smashes two fists into the force field barrier protecting his box, shattering it, and showing no sign of recognizing that Shaitan Topaz has risen from her seat and backed away from him. Of course he doesn't. She's never been all that important to his story, and he's almost forgotten that she exists as he flies down to where the two idiots are standing and waiting for him.

Well, not waiting. Before he can do much of anything, Trouble launches herself up at him in a pathetically obvious attempt at a flying drop kick, which he easily evades by just tilting a bit to the side. He answers her impudence with a bolt of energy cast over his shoulder at her, much more accurately targeted despite everything, which sends her flying backwards even further. Yet doing so distracts him enough that Wukong is able to charge up to him and strike a series of pressure points on his bare chest. Thunder Dragon has just enough time to wonder what that was supposed to accomplish when he feels his command of gravity being suppressed, and the world around him starting to feel much more like a viscous substance engulfing him.

"No more flying for you, I think," says the ape.

His reactions are slowed, and he cannot quite avoid the flurry of blows that Trouble sends at him while bouncing back from where she was knocked earlier. They strike home, and he feels them as he hasn't felt much of anything in a while. On whatever levels of his mind aren't consumed by fury -- and that are quite a few, or he would already have called on his Golden Dragon Transformation -- he is enjoying this. So he answers her flurry of attacks with a single blow of his elbow against her chin. Against anyone else, it could easily have reduced someone's head to a red mist.

High above, Shaitan Topaz watches this insanity with a disbelieving expression. But she is distracted from the sight as the door to the box opens, and one of the guards posted there stumbles in before collapsing in a heap on the floor. He is followed by the one who fought under the name of the Avatar, about whom she's heard unbelievable stories -- likely he is just some insane Dhakamite. "Greetings," he says to her.

She doesn't return them. She just stares.

"I have been asked to deliver a message by one Logan Stormstrider, who is otherwise engaged at the moment," the Avatar says. "In his words: 'Freedom cannot be given; it must be claimed.'" With that out of the way, he regards her with a patient expression.

She looks away from him, looks down just as the ape-man performs some sort of cartwheeling charge that slams the end of his staff into Thunder Dragon's chest, clearly injuring her supposed protector. And Shaitan Topaz makes a choice. She turns back to the Avatar. "Could you pass on a message to him from me in return?" When he nods, she starts walking towards the door out of the box. "'Farewell until we meet again.' That is my message." Farewell, she thinks. Do not die before we meet again. But then ...

Fury at his newest injury drives Thunder Dragon to recover a bit of his former speed, and he roars as he directs a double-handed beam of his vital energy into the monkey king's chest, harming him as nothing so far has. Yet this focus costs him greatly as Trouble is able to swing up under his guard to kick into his own chest and all but knock him off his feet. And then Wukong also brings down his rod on an arc that smashes its hoop into the Dragon's head.

"You will not win!" Thunder Dragon says, his eyes beginning to glow golden.

"We already did!" says Trouble, using more than a little bit of all she's got to deliver one final punch into that sparkling face.

And at last, in the middle of his own arena, Thunder Dragon falls to the floor -- down and out.

Final Bout: Trouble and Sun Wukong vs. Thunder Dragon.

Trouble: Initiative +13, Unarmed +14 (Close Damage DC 21, Crit 18-20), Dodge 12 (22), Parry 12 (22), Fortitude 8, Toughness 10/5, Will 9, Acrobatics +11, Athletics +12, Insight +12, Intimidation +9.
Hero Points: 3
Agile Feint, All-out Attack, Assessment, Evasion, Fearless 2, Power Attack.

Sun Wukong: Initiative +10, Unarmed +10 (Close Damage DC 23), Staff +12 (Close Damage DC 25, Crit 19-20), Dodge 8 (18), Parry 9 (19), Fortitude 11, Toughness 13 (Impervious 13), Will 11, Acrobatics +9, Athletics +11, Insight +10, Intimidation +8.
Hero Points: 3
Agile Feint, All-out Attack, Fearless, Power Attack.

Thunder Dragon: Initiative +24, Unarmed +16 (Close Damage DC 25), Blast +14 (Ranged Damage DC 27), Dodge 10 (20), Parry 12 (22), Fortitude 15, Toughness 14/9, Will 11, Acrobatics +13, Athletics +14, Intimidation +12.
Hero Points: 1
All, Agile Feint, Evasion, Improved Disarm, Improved Trip, Startle.

Turn 1: Trouble 32, Thunder Dragon 28, Wukong 21

Trouble makes a +5/-5 Power Attack.

Attack Roll 1d20+14-5=14; Miss.

Thunder Dragon makes a basic Attack with his Blast of Vital Energy.

Attack Roll 1d20+14=29 vs. Dodge DC 22[/url]
Toughness 1d20+10=18 vs. Damage DC 27; Bruised, Dazed.

Wukong power stunts Close Simultaneous Nullify Flight Powers 11, Sustained and uses it as a +5/-5 All-out Attack.

Attack Roll 1d20+10+5=18; Reroll
Attack Roll 1d20+10+5=24+10=34 vs. Parry DC 22; Hit
Nullify 1d20+11=25 vs. Will 1d20+11=15

Thunder Dragon loses his Flight and the associated Enhanced Initiative.

Turn 2: Trouble 29, Thunder Dragon 28, Wukong 14

Trouble spends a Hero Point to eliminate her Dazed condition and makes a +2/-2 All-out Attack.

Attack Roll 1d20+14+2=24 vs. Parry DC 22
Toughness 1d20+14=16 vs. Damage DC 21; Dazed, Bruised.

Thunder Dragon makes a +5/-5 Power Attack against Trouble.

Attack Roll 1d16+16-5=21 vs. Parry DC 20; Hit
Toughness 1d20+10-1=20 vs. Damage DC 24; Bruised 2.

Wukong makes a feint with Acrobatics as a move action, then a +5/-5 Power Attack with his Rod.

Acrobatics 1d20+9-5=17; Reroll
Acrobatics 1d20+9-5=13+10=23 vs. Acrobatics DC 23; Success.
Attack Roll 1d20+12-5=21 vs. Parry DC 16; Hit
Toughness 1d20+9-1=9; Reroll
Toughness 1d20+9-1=27 vs. Damage DC 30; Bruised 2.

Turn 3: Thunder Dragon 31, Wukong 25, Trouble 22

Thunder Dragon makes a +5/-5 Power Attack with Blast of Vital Energy against Wukong.

Attack Roll 1d20+14-5=20 vs. Dodge DC 18; Hit
Toughness 1d20+13=31 vs. Damage DC 32; Bruised

Trouble makes a +5/-5 All-out Attack.

Attack Roll 1d20+14-5=38 vs. Parry DC 22; Crit
Toughness 1d20+14-2=14 vs. Damage DC 26; Bruised 3, Staggered.

Wukong makes a +5/-5 Power Attack with his Rod.

Attack Roll 1d20+12-5=20; Reroll
Attack Roll 1d20+12-5=26 vs. Parry DC 22; Crit
Toughness 1d20+14-3=28 vs. Damage DC 35; Bruised 4, Staggered.

Trouble uses extra effort to make a +5/-5 Power Attack.

Attack Roll 1d20+14-5=24 vs. Parry DC 22; Hit
Toughness 1d20+14-4=15 vs. Damage DC 26; Bruised 5, Staggered 2=Incapacitated.

Victor: Earth ...?

Tomorrow: Epilogue.



As Thunder Dragon regains consciousness, only the faint touch of the tip of a spear at his throat stops him from rearing up. Instead, he glares up at the woman holding it there. "Involving yourself now?" he asks.

Scathach somehow shrugs without adjusting the point of her spear. "Just ensuring that the fight that you lost doesn't promptly start up again. I believe the three of you have some things to say to each other."

As she says so, he can see his former opponents standing just a bit behind her, looking down at him with what looks like appropriate apprehension. "Yes," he says. "We do, at that." Before either of them can say anything, though, he presses on. "Breaking the rules as you two did means that I don't owe either of you a boon. So I hope you enjoyed that fight, for it's all --"

Trouble interrupts. "I think not. In a few minutes, we're going to ask you for something, and you're going to give it -- voluntarily."

Thunder Dragon stares at her. "Your temerity is without limit."

"Thank you," she says.

"I don't think that was a compliment," says Wukong.

Trouble shrugs. "As the Lady of Dun Scath has said, you lost. And everyone saw you lose."

Thunder Dragon laughs bitterly. "'Everyone?' You overestimate the market value of these events. I might have a few million viewers all over the world, but that is a far cry from --"

This time, Wukong interrupts. "She meant, everyone in Bhutan."

He starts. "What -- no, that's ridiculous. There aren't more than a few hundred television subscribers in the country, and they don't --"

"There were, until a very fast-moving individual took advantage of your focus on these events to deliver battery-powered TV receivers to every village in this country," says Trouble. "All of them pre-subscribed to this event. All of them showing this final battle to every person in Bhutan.

Wukong picks up the thread when Trouble falls silent. "They all saw you lose. They all know you can be beaten." He pauses. "I imagine any number of revolutions are being plotted, as we speak. I imagine they are being supplied by a variety of interested parties."

Thunder Dragon stares at the two of them in stunned silence. He finally finds his voice, but only enough to stammer. "You -- you --"

"Did you think you were the only one who knows how to exploit the media?" says Trouble. She doesn't wait for his response. "Now for that boon, the one that you're going to want to give us, because it's in your own best interests. As someone said earlier, 'Get off our planet.'"

He keeps right on staring, but now he's found the rest of his voice. "If that was what you wanted," he says in a low, angry tone, "then you had just to beat me by the rules and --"

"And you would weasel your way out of it," says Trouble, more anger in her tone than there has been before now. "Exact words -- 'any boon the king of Bhutan can grant'. Oh, if someone asked you to leave Earth, you'd have done it. But once you'd left, you'd no longer the be king of Bhutan, and no longer have to keep any promises he'd made. So you'd come back and conquer all over again. So there's no point to that request." She lets out a sigh. "And we found another way to obtain the only other worthwhile request that anyone had come up with."

That addendum confuses him, clearly, but most of his focus is on what came before that. "First you call me a coward, and then you call me a cheat. Is there any more insolence that you'd like to offer?"

Trouble opens her mouth to answer that, but Wukong speaks further. "All that needs to be said has been said. Will you grant the boon?"

Thunder Dragon looks back at Scathach, who has been listening with her usual bored expression. He beckons for her to move the spear away, and, after a moment of consideration, she does so. He stands, dusts himself off, and then looks at Trouble and Wukong. "I came to this world to find worthy opponents. I found treachery and cowardice instead. So be it. I go because it pleases me to go." He looks up at the dome, as one who is about to fly up towards it might look.

When, after a moment, nothing has happened, he looks again in Wukong's direction, annoyed.

"Oh. Sorry."

Thunder Dragon shakes his head. Without a word, he flies up, through a portal in the dome, and is gone from sight in a moment.

And so, at last, it ends.



The wheelchair squeaked as the Lancet rolled it out of the arena -- already the subject of a fair amount of graffiti and vandalism in just a few hours after the former ruler of Bhutan had departed. Being of an orderly mind, she didn't really approve of that, but she did understand, and was not really in any position to do anything about it. "Your cab should be here shortly, I think," she informed the wheelchair's passenger. "Should I accompany you to the airport?"

"I think I should be able to manage that part of the journey on my own," said Zuwen, his voice still reedy and fatigued. "But thank you for the offer."

It had been a difficult struggle to keep him alive, and his rehabilitation would be a lengthy one. Likely, that truly had been his last fight for what remained of his life. But not a word of complaint had he made to her, and she found that she respected this old man even more. Not that she would ever say that. It would ruin her reputation.

Looking over the altered skyline of Thimpu, watching a number of Earth's extraterrestrial visitors departing this place which was no longer a sanctuary for their sort, she felt moved to ask. "What do you think will happen now?"

"The world will change. It never stops changing," Zuwen replied. "If you want more than truisms ... I suspect that the greatest concern is the possibility that we will come to regret having driven Thunder Dragon away."

She looked at him in surprise.

"The other aliens are carrying news of this with them," he said. "That news will tell those out there, among the stars, that Earth has one fewer superpower, even if that one was only a tyrant. When tyrants fall, it does not inspire fear in other, would-be tyrants. It inspires ambition." Zuwen shook his head. "But that is a worry for another day, I hope. As is the fact that he never actually said that he would never come back ..."

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