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Even as far underground as they are, Taeyong can still hear the noise of the arena above – the cacophony of yells and screams echoing along with the shaking of the foundation as bodies slam the concrete floor. It’s already the second fight of the evening. He knows this only because Donghyuck’s in that fight starting his career off with an excitement that Taeyong knows will never fade, not when he gets a taste of the fight. 

He quickly finds his thoughts set on Donghyuck. After all, he’d been the one to teach him and watch him grow after months of Sim training, but he has his own fight to worry about now, one with higher stakes than he’d ever imagined. 

The air down in the Bloodworks is cold and stale and Taeyong shivers slightly as he walks in time with his handlers. He wrings his hands in his jacket pockets, not quite looking forward and feeling lost in thought when he hears a sudden sharp whistle. He looks up at this, feeling a warning hand on his chest that stops him in his tracks. Taeyong looks around for the source of the whistle when he sees a tall figure step out from an adjacent hallway. The figure is wearing a hood but Taeyong can make a strong forehead and a pierced grin out from underneath. He feels dread curl in his gut as he recognizes the man in front of him. He sighs to himself, aiming a questioning look at his primary handler, Yuta, who takes his hand away and aims a frown back at Taeyong. The tall man continues to step forward, flanked by his own handlers, until he is only a few feet from Taeyong, and then he stops, reaching up to remove his hood. When the hood slips off, Taeyong catches his eye.

“Speak of the devil and he shall appear,” remarks Seo, his soon to be opponent, as he stares down at Taeyong with an unreadable expression on his shadowed features.  

“It’s flattering that you care that much, Seo, but I have somewhere to be, so get out of my face,” Taeyong bites out, stepping back and glaring unflinchingly into Seo’s eyes. Seo throws his head back lets out a bark of laughter, the noise ringing out uncomfortably in the narrow hallway. 

“Don’t I know it, princess,” he grins again, his lips curls in some kind of snarl, and Taeyong wants to knock his perfect teeth out. “I do too, after all. It’s a date.”

What?” Taeyong scoffs up at Seo.

“You see, it’s all very romantic, Lee,” Taeyong feels a shiver crawl down his spine at hearing his name coming from Seo, and he feels glad they only use last names in the underground. “– Can you think of why?” He continues condescendingly after a pause, but Taeyong doesn’t think he’s really looking for an answer. And after a sharp laugh, Taeyong is proven right. 

“Because, princess, I’m going to rip your heart out and cover the arena in red,” Seo growls, slowly smiling, his piercing glinting dangerously in the ceiling lights as his eyes flick up briefly to Taeyong’s hair and he leans in closer. “After all, red is your color,” he whispers. 

Taeyong feels what might be disgust settle in his stomach, as well as something else that tightens in his core, sends his heart racing, and makes him want to rake claws down Seo’s smooth pale throat. Seo’s smirk only gets impossibly deeper as he takes in Taeyong’s silence. Taeyong doesn’t know what his face gives away to Seo, but he doesn’t wait any longer for Taeyong’s response. Stepping forward, Seo reaches a hand forward and places it under Taeyong’s jaw, tilting his head up before Taeyong can stop him. They stare into each other’s eyes, Seo studying him for a moment, and Taeyong realizes they’ve never been this close before.  

There is a moment before anyone acts that is quickly shattered when Yuta quickly pushes Seo back by his left shoulder, restoring the distance between them, quickly breaking the tension as he moves back. But before Taeyong can say something that he might regret, Yuta interjects. 

“Back off, Seo, save it for the Pit,” he bites out, pulling Taeyong’s arm slightly to bring him further away from Seo. Seo does as Yuta says, his hands held up in a mock surrender as he steps back even more.

“I look forward to our fight, Lee.” Seo says after a pause, his dark eyes regarding Taeyong with an eerie calm that feels final. Taeyong just stares back at Seo, unable to really figure him out, before Yuta’s hand on his arm pulls more insistently than before. He allows himself to be led by Yuta, and they quickly leave flanked by Taeyong’s other handler, Ten. Yuta releases his grip on Taeyong after a moment with a drawn out sigh, and he aims Taeyong an apologetic look. Taeyong waves him off. He’s unfortunately used to that from Seo, though this encounter had been more upfront than any before. They walk off in silence, but they only make it so far before Taeyong is reminded of Seo’s lingering presence back down the hallway.

He jolts as he hears a low laugh from Seo again. Taeyong turns around, briefly making eye contact with Seo, who himself seems to have already been looking at Taeyong. They hold eye contact for only a second, but it feels longer than that, and more significant to Taeyong than Seo’s earlier threat did. There is something there, a promise of something to come, something more serious than his earlier taunts. The moment passes quickly and he turns back around before Yuta notices him looking and continues walking alongside his handlers. 

His thoughts drift against his will to Seo as he settles into walking down the long near-empty corridor. His smugness has always gotten on Taeyong’s nerves, but now its worse; especially worse now that Seo and Taeyong are paired in the line-up. He’s been hovering around Taeyong everyday that they’ve been prepping like he’s sizing Taeyong up.  

He can’t stand it.  

He does however feel some kind of excitement at the thought of their fight. He’s seen Seo fight before. He’s a true monster. His reputation in the underground as one of the best fighters is not undeserved, however, he’s never fought Taeyong. He hopes to kill some of Seo’s confidence in their fight, especially after what happened in the hallway. Seo was brave for doing that, and lucky that Yuta didn’t pull his gun out. Rules and legality are not concerns most people have in the Underground, and threats are to be taken seriously, even something like grabbing another person suddenly is grounds for a fist to your face. 

Pushing away thoughts of his irritating opponent, he focuses on centering himself. It’s important for him to be in the right frame of mind before one of these fights, he reminds himself. There is a lot at stake, and money and reputation are among the most important. So, he and his handlers walk for a few more minutes in continued silence until they reach Taeyong’s suite. 

When they arrive Yuta unlocks the door quickly and lets them all inside. Taeyong takes a seat while Ten gathers his gear from the storage closet. He looks up after a moment into the mirror in front of him, its a small mirror and the lighting in the prep-suites is always bad, but Taeyong can see himself fine. His red hair is pinned back to reveal his forehead, courtesy of Ten. Its Ten’s favorite hairstyle on him. He insists on Taeyong having unique styling for all his fights. He’s said as much many times, and did once again on the car ride over as he tugged at Taeyong’s hair furiously in the backseat. He doesn’t mind it though, and sometimes for the larger fights he paints his face too. He’s debating on doing just that for his fight with Seo when Ten steps back into the room, the door closing behind him with a sharp clang.

“Okay, Yong–“ Ten starts, pausing as he walks the rest of the distance to Taeyong and places a few small bags on the table in front of him. “I have this headband in blue, or this silver prototype from Doyoung,” he says as he shows Taeyong two headbands clutched in his left hand. Ten is right to the point, as usual. 

“Doyoung’s prototype is already done?” Taeyong asks, remembering that Doyoung had insisted on building him an upgraded headband as a gift for this coming fight. That conversation, however, was only three days ago and Taeyong hadn’t expected it so soon. 

“I’m holding it in my hand, Yong, it’s finished,” he rolls his eyes, “I think he has a soft spot for you. He gave it to me when we first got here. Seems like he’s rooting for you in this one,” Ten explains with a grin, placing the rest of the gear down on the table and handing Taeyong the silver headband to look at. 

Taeyong looks it over briefly, admiring the soft shine of the metal in the cold lights of the prep-room. It’s a fairly nondescript object, just a metal headband with small pads that affix to the side of his temples and of course Doyoung’s signature thunderbird laser engraved into the side. He feels thankful that Doyoung delivered on his promise, as after all, Doyoung reigns as one of the best tech designers in the Underground. Taeyong also feels grateful that Doyoung seems to be on Taeyong’s side in this, but he is not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, especially since Doyoung and his now-opponent Seo have worked together far more often than he and Taeyong have. So, he doesn’t question the gift and takes it as it is. Their sport has always been collaborative. It takes a whole team of people to do what they do, and Taeyong will always feel thankful that he has the people he has. 

Ten pulls Taeyong away from his thoughts once again, however, as he turns and asks him which headband he decided on. Taeyong already decided when he saw them, and tells Ten as much. He seems pleased with Taeyong’s choice, and drifts away to begin preparations with Yuta. Taeyong turns back to the mirror when Ten leaves, and slowly lifts the headband to his head, the once-soft silver gleam turning into something sharper as it nears the mirror lights. He slowly places the headband down over his red hair, and smiles to himself. He feels ready.

Ten and Yuta come back to his station after a few minutes, Ten with his gear bag in tow and Yuta with his tablet probably doing preliminary checks. He lets Ten fuss over him, adjusting the headband and dabbing eyeshadow over his eyes for him. Apparently, Ten also decided to paint his face for him as he brandishes a paintbrush and begins sweeping the cold paint across his cheekbones deliberately. They settle in to work in relative quiet for some time. Yuta and Ten chat briefly but Taeyong is left mostly to rest at his station. 

Taeyong is examining his finished face in the mirror when the creaking of the door alerts him to a new addition to the room. He hears a belated knock just after the door opens and the sound of two distinctly different voices arguing drifts into the prep-room.  

“– You know you should not just barge in, Donghyuck,” is the last of the cut-off conversation he hears as the door opens further and Taeyong sees Donghyuck, a purple haired mass of excitement, march into Taeyong’s waiting room followed by Doyoung who looks far less excited. He looks around for a second before he spots Taeyong, and when he does, his face lights up. Taeyong feels excitement curl in his stomach; that expression can only mean one thing. He feels himself smiling as Donghyuck marches towards him, his expression becoming a full beam of happiness. Taeyong stands up quickly, waiting to meet Donghyuck. Once he’s close enough to Taeyong he launches himself at him, wrapping his arms around Taeyong’s middle in an excitement-fueled hug. Taeyong laughs, returning the hug happily.

“I’m guessing it didn’t go so well, Hyuck… I knew it,” Taeyong teases, pulling back from their hug to place a hand on Donghyuck’s shoulders solemnly, trying to keep a straight face. Donghyuck scoffs and pushes Taeyong’s hand off his shoulder like the teenager he is.  

“Shut up, Yong! I kicked ass!” Donghyuck tells him indignantly, but his face still maintaining a radiant smile. For once, his mood seems too good to sour. “I won!” He jumps around in place, giving Ten a loud high-five when he congratulates him, and Taeyong can’t help but laugh with him, his good mood infectious as it spreads around the room. A win is always a cause for celebration, especially for Donghyuck. 

Taeyong feels ever so slightly bad for teasing him. 

“Congratulations Hyuck, really, I knew you could do it,” he says earnestly, offering Donghyuck a smile when he looks back at Taeyong.  

Donghyuck dips his head bashfully. It’s a strange sight to see. “Thank you” he says softly, “I did have a good teacher.” Taeyong just laughs and ruffles Donghyuck’s hair when he goes back in for another hug. They part after a moment and then Ten swoops in for his own hug, dragging Donghyuck over to a couch, saying something about letting Taeyong prepare. Watching him go,Taeyong feels pride so large it threatens to swallow him. With only a few years of training under Taeyong’s tutelage the eighteen year-old won the first official Underground fight he was placed in. It’s almost unheard of. Most of the younger fighters don’t have what it takes at first to feel the connection of the fight, but Taeyong knows Donghyuck without a doubt does. He feels a pang of sadness at how their time training together is finally over. Donghyuck is guaranteed to find good handlers and begin his career in the Underground independently after a win so soon. Taeyong will be sad to see him drift away from their circle if he choses handlers outside, but Taeyong secretly hopes he’ll stay in the family.

“He’s never going to shut up. I had to hear ten minutes of that on the way here,” Doyoung provides as he takes a seat next to Taeyong, his back rigidly straight as he settles into the chair with characteristic grace. Once seated he adjusts his dark hair and his glasses in a familiar gesture that has Taeyong smiling softly. They both turn and watch Donghyuck and Ten for a moment. Donghyuck looks to be telling Ten something animatedly. He’s probably recounting his fight. Taeyong will be sure to hear about that later when he doesn’t have the pressure of his own imminent fight. 

“I see that Ten passed my gift on to you,” Doyoung comments as he turns to Taeyong, his expression a controlled calm. Taeyong meets his eyes and thinks nothing of the blankness that he sees. Doyoung has an image of being cold, but Taeyong can see an undercurrent of interest in Doyoung’s gaze. Taeyong offers him a smile and reaches up to gently take off the headband. 

“It’s beautiful, Doyoung, thank you. I hadn’t expected it this quickly, it was a surprise,” Taeyong says, looking down at the headband and briefly running his thumb over the engraving. 

Doyoung smiles slightly. “Of course, Taeyong,” He holds his hand out and Taeyong hands the headband to him with a questioning look. Doyoung takes it and runs a finger over the band. At the gesture a small holographic display appears from the headband next to one of the temple pads and lines of lights blink to life along the spine of the headband. Taeyong looks on in amazement. He has never seen a headband this advanced. 

“I-I didn’t know it could do that…Doyoung. I can’t accept this, it’s too much,” Taeyong frets. He felt bad accepting the headband as a gift, but now he feels even worse knowing that what he is receiving looks like cutting edge technology. 

“I insist, it is after all, a gift. Please, take it.” Doyoung gives Taeyong a look that tells him he will not be taking back the headband. Taeyong concedes, giving Doyoung a grateful smile in return. 

“But why?” Taeyong asks after a beat, the curiosity proving to be too much.  

Doyoung gives him a questioning look. “Why what?” 

“Why give me this?” He feels almost nervous asking. It’s a strange feeling.

Doyoung pauses, looking down at the headband in his hands. “There is no one like you in this scene Taeyong. I want to support you,” he says after a beat, looking back up at Taeyong, “and this is the best way I know how.”

Taeyong thinks over his words. “But you’ve worked with Seo, and now he and I are rivals.”

Doyoung scoffs. “There are sides to the fights, yes, but there are no sides to this, Taeyong. Seo and I are friends, just as we are. I help my friends.” His words feel final and Taeyong almost feels bad for asking. He understands Doyoung’s answer, but he feels strange again. He didn’t know that Doyoung and Seo are friends. 

“Thank you, Doyoung, I’m lucky to have you, all of you.”

“Yes, you are.” Doyoung says drily, but he has a small smile on his sharp features. “Well, I should let you finish your preparations,” he says finally, standing up from his seat. “Good luck, Taeyong.” 

“Thank you, I’ll put this to good use,” Taeyong responds, placing the headband back on his head and looking up at Doyoung.

“You better,” is all Doyoung says before he drifts across the room to gather Donghyuck from his loud conversation with Ten and Yuta. 

“Come on donghyuck, let’s leave Taeyong in peace for now, he also has an important fight to win,” Taeyong hears Doyoung say, his tone pointed.

Taeyong sees Donghyuck aim him a grin before he’s quickly getting up from the couch with a quick “one sec” thrown at a stone faced Doyoung. Donghyuck reaches Taeyong’s side before he even realizes and he reaches down to hug him again, his face warm where it's pressed against Taeyong’s, smelling faintly of the pit. Taeyong lets out a laugh, returning the exuberant hug as best he can.

“Kick ass out there, teach’,” Donghyuck grins before he jogs to meet a waiting Doyoung. 

“I will, and I better see you in the stands!” Taeyong calls out as Donghyuck and Doyoung leave with goodbyes from Ten and Yuta.

Closing the door behind them, Yuta laughs. “What a kid, figures he won his first fight, we haven’t seen sim scores like his since Mark,” his tone turns more serious at the mention of Mark, a small bittersweet smile appearing on his face. 

Ten makes an agreeing noise, walking back over to Taeyong to fuss over him just one more time. “He’s a wonder child, runs in the family. But enough about the baby, we have to get you ready, and fit this headband properly,” Ten remarks as he turns Taeyong around in his chair so he faces the mirror.

Taeyong goes along with Ten’s ministrations quietly. He knows what he’s doing, as he fusses once more with Taeyong’s hair and touches up the sweeping black lines of paint that frame Taeyong’s face. Their appearance is important, Taeyong knows this, so he appreciates Ten’s extra work. The more recognizable a fighter’s aesthetic in the Underground, the more people know and support them. The fanfare is a vital part of the presentation; it keeps people coming back for more. 

Taeyong finally lets his mind drift into silent mediation as Ten finishes up. The muffled tapping of Yuta, Ten’s soft humming, and a faint rhythmic pounding from the ceiling above are the only noises Taeyong can hear and he lets them lull him into a sharp single minded Focus. A clear mind is the best way to go into one of these fights. Taeyong has long since mastered the Focus; a mindset of clear calm determined energy that lets fighters remain connected to the fight for as long as they need. 

With his headspace clear and his appearance to Ten’s liking, Taeyong gets up from his seat and follows Yuta and Ten as they walk out of the prep-room and into a different, narrower hallway that leads up into the pit.

“Okay, so your Focus score is doing good, Yong, could be better though,” Yuta pauses, reading a new message, “…and Mawang’s being decanted and prepped now,” he adds, walking in time with Taeyong, his tablet a permanent fixture on his arm as he adjusts settings and connects to Taeyong’s headband. “Moon sent me an ETA on Seo a bit ago as well, looks to be about ten minutes now, so we’re doing good on time.” 

Taeyong nods in response, keeping his eyes forward and his thoughts on the Focus.

They reach the door to the loading area and Ten pulls open the large door, ushering them all inside. Taeyong feels relief at stepping into an empty room, remembering that Seo and his handlers enter the loading area on the opposite side, so Taeyong’s only contact with Seo from then on will be in the pit. The thought sends a curl of excitement and nerves through him, sharpening his mind. 

“Hey, Focus is looking really good, whatever you’re doing in there Yong, keep it up,” Yuta remarks from the side, sending Taeyong a quick thumbs up. Taeyong huffs out a humorless laugh to himself, thinking of Seo, his frustrating opponent, is sending him deeper into the Focus. Figures.

“Alright, let’s get your preliminaries started,” Ten muses from the side, approaching Taeyong and activating his headband, the pads adjusting to his temples automatically and the gentle pressure tells Taeyong its locked in place. He hears a faint hum as the headband blinks to life, a small HUD appearing in his sight as the headband relays his own vitals, Focus state and affinity percentage to him, the latter being his amount of connection to Mawang. Yuta loads up the connection and begins the connection process. At Taeyong’s left, Ten reaches out and removes his jacket, leaving him to shiver slightly at the cold of the loading area. The dark concrete room is not heated, as is most of the Underground facilities, and even far underground Taeyong can feel the chill of Autumn to his bones. However the chill only makes him anticipate the fight more; he won’t cold where he’s going next.

“Looking good, Yong, red is definitely your color,” Yuta jokes from the side, and Ten laughs, looking over at Taeyong’s fight clothes. Taeyong roles his eyes. The red to match his hair was Ten’s idea, but Taeyong likes his outfit. His black shirt is matched with an assortment of chokers and a pair of red leather pants. 

“And… Moon said Seo’s ready earlier than expected, and you’re up first Yong. Let’s get out there,” Yuta grins, checking his tablet. This is always his favorite part.

Taeyong nods, centering himself and taking one last deep breath in, and he walks down through the loading room and over to another door on the far side, this time leading as Yuta and Ten fall in step with him. The final door they pass through opens up to the noise of the pit – the loud cheering and screaming from the audience, as well as music with bass so low it pounds through Taeyong’s chest. He can also hear the host amping the crowd up, his booming voice echoing through the ropes of lights that separate them from the pit. 

At Yuta’s mark, Taeyong leads with his right hand and pushes through the lights and out on to his platform. The audiences screams turn deafening as the circular pit is lit up with a crimson red that rolls across the audience, signaling Taeyong’s entrance. He keeps his gaze forward, his eyes never leaving Seo’s entrance on the other side of the pit and his heart pounding fast along with the rhythmic stomps of the audience. Projected behind him on the long ropes of lights is a massive crimson dragon, his calling symbol, surrounded by swirling colors and more waves of light that pulse through the pit, all to announce his arrival to the fight.

He stands still for a moment, waiting to sit, and waiting to see Seo’s entrance. The audience’s cheers grow louder once again as Taeyong sees a hooded head push through the ropes on the other side, signaling Seo’s entrance. He pushes all the way out on to the platform and Taeyong sees his head lift up, a familiar sharp grin suddenly visible as he pulls his hood down and presents himself to the audience. As the crowd swells with excitement, a large bout of digital fire blooms its way across the ropes and circles the ring of the pit just as Taeyong’s calling did. The cracked concrete of the stands is set ablaze further as Seo lifts his hands to the air and bows low for the audience. Taeyong narrows his eyes as he meets Seo’s gaze from across the pit, the heaviness of the impending fight making the connection electric. The energy and anticipation of the audience is palpable as the announcer yells out his official welcome. 

“Tonight is the night! In the very heart of Seoul, I welcome you to the fight you have all been waiting for… a fight of pure savagery never before seen in these halls “ the announcer calls out to the rings of raised stands that look down on the pit, the spiral building pulling all attention on the fighters platforms and the announcer standing in the center of the neon ringed concrete fighting pit. The host is a tall man, with slicked black hair, and a voice that demands all attention. Taeyong knows him, and feels a swell of pride as he watches his friend take utter control of the pit and raise the energy level of the pit massive skillfully. 

“Tonight we have two living legends facing off for the first time in the history of the Underground, here to deliver us the show of lifetime, ” he begins, turning to his right as he thrusts his hands up into the air. The audience return another deafening cheer.

“You ready?” Yuta asks from his left, his tablet in hand ready to activate.

Taeyong nods, sitting down cross-legged on the small concrete platform in from of him that overlooks the pit.

“Alright, activating affinity lock,” Yuta replies as he presses down on his tablet.

And suddenly, Taeyong’s mind is pulled away from his body. But then its over as quick as it started, and he feels like he’s being pulled through a tunnel when he finally emerges, his senses returning to him as he is reconnected – only now with two bodies instead of one.

Pulling his head up and looking around, he finds himself in a dark tunnel, the pit in view just a few meters in front of him. He blinks a few times and adjusts to his new vision. Pulling his arms forward, he feels his powerful limbs flex in preparation for the imminent fight. He begins to step forward on to two strong clawed feet, feeling taller and impossibly powerful, as he makes his way down the tunnel and emerges out on the floor of the pit. When he emerges, he pulls his arms back and revels in the feeling of roaring out to the audience. 

“Off of an incredible winning streak, Mawang!” The announcer calls out.

He circles the announcer slowly, his tail swiping behind him, and looks up to the audience. His vision is sharper and colorless as he scans the audience members. He quickly spots Donghyuck’s glowing purple hair in the upper left stands, and he raises his head and growls up a greeting to him. Donghyuck waves excitedly, a bright smile crossing his features as he elbows Doyoung from the side. Doyoung offers only a nod his way. 

Looking away, Taeyong takes his place under his platform, sparing one final look up at Ten and Yuta, who offer him twin smiles of support from either side of his human body resting still, eyes closed, near the end of the platform. With his eyes forward and his body balanced on four legs, Taeyong watches Seo emerge. 

“And the unbeatable tirant, Akshin!

His Beast form is tall, maybe the same height as Taeyong now is, and covered in inky black plated armor that looks like it has ripped through what he knows is iridescent white scaled skin. His eyes are bright twin holes light surrounded by sharp scaled ridges. He also circles the pit briefly, offering a sharp snarl to the audience as he rakes his claws down the concrete of the pit.

Are you ready?” The announcer calls out, drawing out every syllable and pulling the crowd’s cheer up along with him. And just before the signal to fight, the announcer’s hologram blinks out of existence and leaves nothing but empty space in between Seo and Taeyong. There is a momentary pause as both fighters wait for the pit lights to glow purple, signaling the start of the fight. 

And with that purple light, they snap into action. Seo leaps forward, catching the armor on the back of Taeyong’s neck with his claws and snapping his teeth at Taeyong neck. Before he can pierce through the tough skin, Taeyong’s tail swipes around behind Seo and stabs into his back, pulling him backwards and away from Taeyong. He pushes forward following the momentum and pulls Seo with his tail still embedded in his back, twisting his feet into the air and flipping their positions with the support of his clawed hands dug into Seo’s shoulders. They break apart momentarily, Taeyong’s tail whipping back behind him. He can hear the loud screams of the audience at their clash, but above all else, the shouts of encouragement from Yuta and Ten feel the loudest.

Exhilaration seeps into his mind, his Focus deep, as he leaps around dodging another attack from Seo and pulling back into defense while he creates space for his own attack. Seo lets out a low hiss, pulling his arms back for a charge. Taeyong anticipates the move, but is thrown when Seo instead feints to the right and swipes his claws across Taeyong’s left side. Biting back a screech of pain, Taeyong returns the attack swiftly, digging his long claws into Seo’s right side, watching with satisfaction as he sees long wounds open up along Seo’s side, inky blood spilling from the wounds and spilling on to the stained concrete floor.

Seo does not give Taeyong space to fall back into defense, however, as he grabs Taeyong’s arms and pulls them behind his back, exposing his chest for an attack from Seo’s shark serpentine tail. Panic laces through Taeyong, the vulnerability of his position spiking his heart rate as he struggles against the hold. Sensing no give and seeing Seo’s tail whip around him, he flexes his back, feeling warm blood fall seep out as spines pierce through his back armor and impale themselves into Seo’s underbelly. Seo screeches from behind Taeyong and releases his hold, allowing Taeyong to burst from his arms and leap down on to his clawed hands and push with his back legs to throw himself up and against the side of the stand. 

While Seo is momentarily distracted by pain and bleeding profusely on the floor, Taeyong claws his way up the side of the stand, all while hearing gasps and yells from the audience, and braces himself as he leaps off the stands and on to Seo’s exposed back. 

With his claws out, Taeyong falls on to Seo, grabbing him by the neck and sinking his teeth into the unarmored space on the junction between his neck and shoulder. With his left foot he traps Seo’s thrashing tail against the floor and holds his biceps with his free hands. His pulls against Seo neck as hard as he can, feeling the flesh rip along his shoulder as more blood pours out. He can taste a muted coppery tang as blood fills his mouth. but he does not relent on his hold of Seo, even as he thrashes around, his own claws raking angrily across Taeyong’s sides, forearms, wherever he can reach.  

He lets out a louder roar of pain this time, his anger and pain palpable as the air of the fight changes and Seo tenses under Taeyong. He leans forward and finally flips Taeyong brutally, his back meeting the concrete with a sickening crack as Taeyong can feel the armor on his back split under the force of his fall. Taeyong gets up as quickly as he can and whips around, snarling sharply at Seo and looking into his sharp enraged gaze, trying to anticipate his next move. They feel very balanced in the fight, their shared experiences and wins motivating them to give all they can to win, but something has to give. There can only be one winner and Taeyong is not going to lose to Seo.

Taeyong attacks first this time, running fast and low to the ground, and clashing tooth and nail with Seo as they meet in the middle, all pretense forgotten as the desire to win fuels both of them to claw and bite all they can. Seo manages to catch Taeyong’s left arm after a moment of fierce attacks from Taeyong, of which added to the litany of wounds already covering Seo’s pale scaled chest, clawed off pieces of armor falling to the floor as they are ripped off both of them, exposing bleeding raw flesh beneath. Seo pushes hard on Taeyong, putting distance between them so Taeyong’s facing him with his arm still in Seo’s grasp. And with Taeyong’s left arm held in his hand, Taeyong struggles prove futile when Seo’s grip starts to feel more like steel around Taeyong’s wrist. And with every bit struggle, it gets tighter. Seo quickly pulls his left hand down against his right before Taeyong can pull out of the grasp, and clasps them tight around Taeyong’s wrist, his arms extended. And in a quickly movement, Seo delivers a powerful kick to Taeyong’s shoulder. There is a brief moment where Taeyong feels only excruciating pain as the force of Seo’s kick gives him the needed force to rip off Taeyong’s left arm. Taeyong screeches in pain as his arm disconnects and for a brief moment, all he hears is the sickening splash of his blood against the concrete. 

His feels himself losing Focus, and can hear Yuta yelling to him about his affinity through his human ears as his consciousness wavers between his human and Beast bodies. A stab of panic rushes through him at the sensation. He hasn’t felt this kind of low affinity in years, and he knows the cause. Of course Seo just had to decide to go for left arm, had to decide to rip it from him in a mockery of what happened to Mark over two years ago.  

Thoughts of Mark flash through his mind as he falls to the floor, his left arm an aching stump in place of a limb. But he doesn’t want to lose, not now. He feels his clarity blink back to him through sheer will. He has to do this. 

His vision sharpens as he shifts his weight low on the ground between his three remaining limbs. Seo is hovering just in front of him, Taeyong’s arm since discarded against the wall behind him. And even though only seconds passed, it felt like much longer to Taeyong. He knows it was only a moment because there are still cheers and screams in support of Seo, but Taeyong is comforted to hear that many people are screaming in support of him as well.  

His fighting spirit renewed, and his thoughts on Mark, he charges at Seo, leading with his right side. When he gets close, he whips his tail out and catches Seo’s left hand, pulling it away in a swift motion as he uses his momentum to extend his right forearm armor plates into an extended ridge that can act as a blade. With Seo’s left hand pulled away, and his right clawing against the open wound of Taeyong’s left shoulder relentlessly and his tail stabbing desperately into Taeyong’s back, Taeyong pushes through the pain and uses all his weight to cut the blade up and across Seo’s neck with all the force he can muster. And what follows is a moment where time seems to slow yet again as Taeyong watches with single-minded focus as the blade slices through the pale scaled skin on Seo’s throat and rips the his life from him.

The moment comes crashing down as Seo’s eyes, locked with Taeyong’s, lose their life and he falls to the ground with a muted sound, blood pouring out around the sliced tendons in his neck. Taeyong feels all his emotions rush to the surface as he breathes. Elation, horror, anxiety, triumph, all rush through him. 

Taeyong wins.