*EDIT* Today's update's coming, it's another big one so I'm taking extra time with it! Expect it late Friday, you don't want to miss it!
It's an EXTRA BIG UPDATE! Can you tell I'm having fun. Thanks for reading! Please support Paranatural on Patreon so I can keep putting all this work into a story I love!
All he had to do now was collect his quarry. With any luck, Ape’s punch hadn’t turned the ghost to dust, but he told himself he did not care much either way. The other cultists would bring plenty to feed Razor Rex’s scythe—tonight, there were no limits on who and where they could hunt. When the lightless dawn arrived, they would not need to hide in shadow any longer
Ape felt nothing, even though this meant that years of struggle would soon end. With or without a ghost to feed her, his efforts would suffice to please his goddess; Ape had done enough for Razor Rex already. It was her turn to hold up her end of the bargain... in just a few short hours, when the Authority’s schemes finally came to fruition
Yes. Every sacrifice that Ape had made would soon be worth it. He would know relief at last.
A glint of purple in Ape’s peripheral vision made him pause. Something wasn’t right. The sparks of Crush’s shattered armor were lingering around him far too long—
“I th-thought... you said... that the last laugh would be yours...!”
Ape whirled in time to see Crush snap his fingers. Then his vision became light and motion—every stray shard of the ghost’s ruined armor was a shining purple fist, an instant strike from every angle. He couldn’t feel it, but he heard bone crack, and wondered numbly if the sound came from his mask.
When the pummeling was over, Ape was driven to his knees. He blinked slowly, his vision blurred. Rainbow still bloomed from his shining fists, but it seemed purposeless now, like the attract mode of an out of order arcade machine. He looked up at his opponent.
Crush was barely standing. Well, he wasn’t standing, but it looked like simply floating was an ordeal for him, too. Ape’s Sidesplitter had left a crater on his torso, a wound where his detail had been scoured to a stark, featureless white. All across Crush’s body, his form wavered, like a dam about to burst
Still, though, Crush was smiling. Why in Razor Rex’s name was he still smiling?
“I didn’t hear... you laugh at ALL... big guy,” the ghost wheezed, clutching his ribs. “You had me... on the ropes... and you just sighed.”
Ape hardened his heart. One more round. One more night behind the mask. He rose back to his feet... and his legs buckled. Ape collapsed.
The hulking cultist ceased to be for one brief moment. When at last his thoughts resurfaced, he found himself held up by Crush.
“Heh,” the ghost laughed, grinning, straining under Ape’s full weight. “Th-thought I had you read before, Ape... but man, I really get you now. You’re hidin’ from yourself, ain’tcha?”
Ape roared and threw a weary punch. Crush leaned back to avoid it, pushing Ape away with just one hand. Woozy as he was, a gentle nudge was more than sufficient to knock the masked spectral off balance—but before he could fall over, he hit purple ropes instead.
“Will wisps,” Crush said, gesturing around them. “Spectral energy that ain’t fixed to your body. Way, way harder to control. Next to temperin’... it’s the most advanced technique of Spectral Fist.” As he spoke, orbs of flickering violet began to gather at the corners of a square around both men. Crush flexed, wincing through pain, and still more ropes of spectral energy appeared, pulled taut between each wisp.
Ape was panting, wracked by exhaustion, and absolutely dumbfounded by what he was seeing. Crush was just as beat as he was, but he’d still managed to conjure an entire boxing ring from spectral energy.
Hurt as he was, Crush looked to be basking in his awe. “Heh heh. Wonderin’... how a lug like me... can pull off stuff like this?” He raised his fists, crafting boxing gloves of his own with violet vapor. “Well, it ain’t easy... but lemme tell ya: a lug like YOU could learn to do it too.”
The tool at Ape’s neck gleamed as he demanded still more strength from Mister Sun. With a hoarse shout, he lumbered off the ropes of the glowing arena and threw a wild haymaker at Crush.
Crush ducked it, but it grazed him. He only grimaced for a moment, though, and had his grin back by the time his counter struck. Ape felt the impact ripple through him. He was numb. So numb all over.
“But you’ll get nowhere near me... ’til you let yourself FEEL SOMETHIN’!” They were trading blows now; both men were far too tired to dodge. “Ain’t you ever heard no pain, no gain, huh, big guy?!”
Ape’s response was incoherent. One more punch. Another swing. Just end the fight—
“Well I’ve made nothin’ BUT gains since I first met Master Guerra! All the pain he’s put me through, he’s repaid me in full!” Crush’s eyes were shining even as more hits connected. “Can you say the same about your goofy goddess??”
“BLASPHEMER!” Ape cried, driving Crush back to the ropes. “H-HERETIC! I WILL—”
“C’mon, Ape! Play the supervillain all you like—you wanted to meet your match tonight, didn’t you??” The ropes stretched as Crush pressed himself against them. “Why ELSE would you stand at the edge of the woods starin’ at me like a sad little death puppy
Crush’s will wisp energy snapped taut, and he launched forward. A devastating headbutt cracked Ape’s mask.
The flickering ghost didn’t relent. He threw an arm around Ape’s neck, punching his side with the other one again and again and again, their foreheads pressed together. “I understand, ’cause I’m thickheaded just like you! You made your choice a long, long time ago, and you’re dang sure stickin’ with it! Ha! I fought Master Guerra when he tried to free me, too!”
“Silence!” Ape was struggling to break free.
“You’re not the only one who got tricked by a spirit! Me and the rest of the Consortium did,
too! Isn’t that all your goddess is? Some trickster spirit?!” Punch after punch slammed into Ape.
“What power did this Razor Rex lady show you, huh? What bought the guy that didn’t wanna hurt a kid? What made you hafta prove you ain’t killed no one? Whadja get PROMISED, huh?!”
“Whatever it was, it wasn’t enough, was it? Not anymore! Somethin’ pushed you past your limit! Gave your conscience one last chance!” Crush was shouting through his grin, eyes intense, his voice resounding. “That’s why you came here! You NEEDED to get caught! To face your guilt! To find a guy like ME to save the day!!”
“SHUT UP!! SHUT UP, SHUDDUP, SHUDDUUUPP!!” Ape bellowed
“You coulda MADE ME shut up a LONG, LONG TIME AGO,” Crush bellowed back, “but get thisthrough BOTH SKULLS, big guy...”
Ape pulled an arm free and struck Crush again and again and again, but none of his blows
were enough. Why weren’t they enough?!
“...YOU CAN’T BEAT ME ’CAUSE YOU DON’T WANT TO WIN!!”
A second headbutt slammed into Ape’s mask, but Crush’s words had struck the final blow. Ape wavered, stunned... and then at last fell slack. His mask crumbled piece by piece, scattering around him like cracked eggshell on the grass.
It was only dark for but a moment. Then the world shone bright with color... brighter, somehow, though it wasn’t, than any shade he’d seen in spirit trance. The man who’d called himself Ape could see everything clearly now. He was on his knees again, but with an autumn breeze against his face, and a tension in his chest slowly unspooling. Mister Sun’s tool dangled in plain sight around his neck, its glow depleted... but he didn’t care. He looked up. Crush was smiling down at him once more, haggard and spent
“H-heh. I teased you before, but... you really are one heck of a boxer, big guy,” the ghost wheezed through a grin. “You don’t... get skills like that... unless you really love the sport. Unless you really love to fight.” Crush flashed his widest smile yet, letting his spectral gloves disperse. “Master Guerra’s gonna make you somethin’ else.”
The defeated cultist looked up at the ghost with wide, hopeful, fearful eyes—his real eyes.
“It’s all right, big guy. You don’t gotta say a word... ’cause I know why you can’t.” Crush raised his hand into the air with effort. “Same reason that you wore the mask... and kept the wacky zealot act up to the bitter end.” He winked. “Heh heh. Fine by me. A fight like ours deserved at least one witness in the stands!”
With a snap of his fingers, Crush’s conjured boxing ring ropes converged around the figure sneaking up on him.