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  • Illusions of Control


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    The crowd roared as Tom’s name was announced and he strode purposefully into the arena for tonight’s bout. As usual, Tom strode purposefully to the center of the arena. Wearing white tank-top and loose fitting gi-pants with bare feet, he spun slowly around to acknowledge the crowd. Raising one hand into the air as a minimally accepted greeting, he nodded after his rotation and strode to one side of the arena, as was his custom. Despite the admittedly boring presentation, the crowd roared for their champion. Tom had not been defeated for over a year. Gallons of his own blood had stained the floor of the arena during this time, yet he had always come out on top.

     

    Things had been going well with the business lately. New suppliers had been found, new customers became regulars, and even old competitors had decided to ‘sell’ their stake to Thyrsus. There had been no incident involving Venom in nearly a year at this point. Even though Calloway had appeared to retreat for now, that meant he wasn’t gone. He wouldn’t forget, neither must Tom.

     

    Despite the success, Tom had been increasingly temperamental. It was clear to everyone who had dealings with Tom that he was angrier now than he was before. His bouts of rage came easier, more frequently, and shoving the beast back in its box became more difficult each time. Roderick’s power did not scale with Tom’s rage, so his assistance became insufficient and could no longer be relied upon. Tom asked him to no longer mitigate his moods, as he didn’t want to occupy Roddy’s efforts on a futile task.

     

    The jeers and boos of the crowd snapped Tom out of his thoughts as he watched his next opponent enter the arena. Tom could see nothing special about the man. He was mid 20s, lanky, seemingly unkempt…the most noteworthy thing about his appearance was just how unimpressive he really looked. Tom had seen this man compete before, though. He was no slouch in the arena. He moved supernaturally fast and had never had a fight last more than thirty seconds…usually resulting in him quickly finding a flank or soft spot to expose and striking with supernatural speed into the vulnerable areas to fell his foes. The longest bout was with someone who had unnaturally tough skin, not unlike stone. This simply led the speedster to target the man’s eyes and any other spot where that armored skin could not protect him. This was Tom’s most convincing challenger yet.

     

    Tom’s trips upstate had become untenable as well. Letting the beast roam freely in the remote wilderness had been something Tom had come to rely on to allow the rage to flow freely with minimal consequence. That one accident with the unfortunate camper was the only blemish on that record. She and Tom had an understanding that they were to leave one another alone, but Tom knew that if he sensed she needed his help, he’d drop everything to do so.

     

    In this, he had failed. As Tom’s anger had been increasing in his normal life, he hadn’t accounted for its effect on the beast’s own activities. During the full moon, the beast’s range of activity had expanded dramatically. This had led to more deaths in the remote wilderness of upstate New York. Local communities had even begun organizing hunts for the ‘Adirondack Monster’. The communities had found their monster. Tom’s first victim upstate, whom he had turned accidentally, fell to the silver blades and bullets of those seeking to end their own suffering. As bad as Tom had been of late, this pushed him further toward madness.

     

    Tom had been seething while the memory of learning of her fate had come to him. He hadn’t heard the announcer say his name while introducing them to the crowd. The speedster had been posing and playing to the following he had managed to acquire during his ascension in the ranks. He approached Tom before the bout was to begin,

    “You okay there, Gallo? I don’t want to beat you and have you say you were sick or somethin’. “ The speedster snickered as he pulled two bottles of water from seemingly out of nowhere and extended one towards Tom in offer. Tom wordlessly accepted the bottle from his hands with a slight nod to acknowledge he was okay.

     

    Tom’s ‘daughter’ was dead. His father had outright vanished. He had basically lost his mind months ago, however news of the girl likely pushed him over the edge. He was either dead, or deep into the Canadian wilderness by now. Tom had no way of knowing. Not knowing was killing him. He couldn’t protect his ‘daughter’, he couldn’t find his father, he didn’t know where the hell Eris was.

     

    Eris. She had vanished months ago without warning. Tom learned of her absence only by an offhand remark by Roderick that perhaps Tom should take a vacation and get out of New York like Eris did. Tom had suppressed his urge to snap at Roderick for not informing Tom of this sooner. He was able to suppress it only because he knew that Roderick was smart enough to not ask after Tom’s personal matters. Tom could not come up with enough rewards to offer to Roderick. This man was truly a godsend.

     

    Eris’s absence had been felt strongly. He hadn’t been truly aware of her influence on him until she had vanished for a few months. She and Victor were the only two who seemed to truly understand Tom fully. Victor understood him in a fatherly sort of way. Eris was a kindred spirit…a savage predator operating in the jungle of politics and feigned civility. Her disappearance added to his strain.

     

    Tom was faintly aware of the speedster zipping around Tom while Tom was lost in his thoughts again. The bout had begun while Tom was daydreaming. Rather than take the easy win, the speedster was instead playing to the crowd and mocking Tom, garnering actual laughs from the crowd. He even drew a bemused chuckle from Tom. Despite Tom’s perpetually sour mood of late, he was amused by this man’s antics.

     

    He was beginning to feel like his usual self as he broke the seal on the bottle of water his opponent had provided for him. The moment the seal of the bottle was broken, the smell hit him like a sledgehammer to the face.

     

    Venom.

     

    When Tom came to, he was covered in the speedster’s blood. Bone fragments from his skull had sliced the back of Tom’s hand as his fist had crushed through it. Tom suddenly remembered where he was and looked up to the crowd, horrified. All he saw was blackness of the dome instead of the faces of the spectators. One of the magical additions to Satyr with the magical protections was the ability to create an opaque screen between the viewers and the participants in the event something that Satyr’s management would rather not be seen by the public.

     

    Tom had snapped. He had blacked out and outright murdered this man in front of thousands of eyes. Crews of men had come in swiftly to clean up the remains and stepped gingerly around the capo as he continued to collect his thoughts. Tom knew he had to leave, but was frozen, trying to remember what had just transpired. Venom. That thought triggered another surge of rage that was begging to be let out again, but Tom held it back, but only just. It took every bit of effort to not fly off the rails again, and everyone around him knew that. Tom had to step out of the arena, but none of the staff were going to tell him that.

     

    After a minute, hour, eternity…it was impossible to know, the tide of rage within Tom began to subside. It was then that he noticed Matteo striding towards him with a look that was equal parts concern and caution. Tom had no doubt that Matteo had plans to put Tom down if need be. Wordlessly, Tom nodded and allowed Matteo to walk with him out of the arena.

     

    Venom.

     

    It was about time for Tom to take that vacation Roderick suggested.

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