Chapter 97

               The first tug of the match nearly cost Owen’s team everything. Their opponents put a lot of power into the opening move, clearly intent on throwing the weaker Supers off balance and claiming an early lead. It nearly worked, too. Only Big Henry’s stalwart readiness coupled with Bubble Bubble’s footholds kept them in the game, as the lumbering demon halted their movement forward and brought the match to a state of momentary equilibrium.

                Now that they had a chance to react, Galvanize and Bubble Bubble both dug their heels in, pulling with all they had, using their whole bodies as wedges more than just momentum. The match would ultimately depend on Big Henry, but, unlike when Titan was at their backs, they knew every little bit they could add would make a difference. In seconds, both were sweating from the effort of staving off a team of strongmen, Bubble Bubble’s makeup smearing around her eyes as she grit her teeth and continued to pull.

                “Well now, look at this. Seems like the team of PEERS is able to hold their own even without their Hero Liaison. But how long can they keep it up?” Jade stood near the center line, the point which would mark the failure for one of the teams. It seemed she was going to be there at the exact moment this match was decided, and from the way the crowd seemed to be leaning in, they no doubt wished they had her vantage point as well.

                Every member of the Mordent Holdings team was visibly shaking with effort. Even Hexcellent, standing on the sidelines, had her eyes narrowed and fists clenched as she willed Big Henry to pull with every ounce of power he could muster. By contrast, the other team seemed to be working, and giving it quite a bit of effort, but they weren’t exhausting themselves. Owen couldn’t blame them, why would they? From the outset, it was clear that all the PEERS were doing was buying time, going down with a fight. At their very best, giving all they had, the most they could do was hold the rope steady. No, the other team would wait until they tired themselves out, then drag Galvanize across the line for a simple victory, preserving energy for their next match. It was the smart move, tactically.

                Of course, there were always more than one set of tactics at play in any engagement.

                The first cheers came less than a minute after the match had started. It was a mishmash of syllables as people tried to yell the names Galvanize, Hexcellent, and Bubble Bubble on top of each other all at once. Eventually, someone hit upon the idea of just chanting “PEERS” and in seconds it had caught like wildfire. Soon, whole sections of the crowd were cheering for the straining, sweating, figures that were barely holding on. They hadn’t exactly won over everyone, but it was a far cry from what had happened when Titan was on the rope.

                Owen smiled to himself as he watched uncertainty ripple through the players of the Cincinnati Cyborgs that were holding their end of the line. It was a hard and fast rule every Hero learned in their first years on the job: people always liked to cheer for an underdog. It was what they identified with, what movies and television had taught them to believe in. David was always more fun to root for than Goliath, which was precisely why Titan had made such a boring competitor to watch.

                True as that was though, underdogs were underdogs for a reason, and life didn’t often echo the fable-like stories of triumph people adored. Slowly, but surely, the stalemate began to end and Owen’s team moved forward. Bubble Bubble pushed her orbs along with them, allowing them to keep their footholds as they were dragged, but even that wasn’t enough to turn the tides. Their opponents were stronger. Always had been. But they’d put up a good fight, and Owen was proud of them now that it was over.

                Except… it wasn’t over. They were still being dragged, there was no doubt about that, but not a one of them seemed to have accepted their fate. Galvanize was leaned back, straining with every fiber of muscle contained in his body. Bubble Bubble was pulling so hard that her pale, freckled face had gone completely flush and sweaty red hair was matted to her forehead, the sort of sight she would have never allowed cameras to glimpse before. Even Hexcellent was right next to Big Henry, whispering encouragement in the demon’s ear as it grunted and strained against the combined might of it’s opponents. They were losing, and they knew it, but each one of them was still fighting like they had a chance to turn things around.

                The crowd, fickle though it could be, had taken note of their efforts, and the cheering in the stands reflected it. Everyone knew the outcome, yet the harder Owen’s team fought to deny it the more those in the stands loved them. Even Owen felt himself impressed, and surprised, by the depth of their determination. This was more than he’d expected them to give, to be capable of giving, and if it hadn’t been in bad taste he would have cupped his hands to his mouth and screamed for them right along with the crowd.

                Owen was seconds away from saying to hell with bad taste and cheering anyway, when the match finally came to an end. Galvanize, moving his leg backward to adjust his stance, slipped, and was dragged several inches forward, sending his foot across the line. A whistle blew, and the rope fell to the ground.

                “Looks like our winners for this match are the players from the Cincinnati Cyborgs!” Jade announced. Their triumph was greeted with applause, a dimmed sound compared to the yelling that had been taking place only moments prior. Luckily for all involved, Jade wasn’t a novice. She knew the importance of keeping a crowd pumped, and exactly how to make sure they stayed that way.

                “And let’s have one more round of applause for their competitors, the team of PEERS-”

                Jade was cut off by the screaming enthusiasm of the crowd. Yes, they still did and always would like Heroes and sports stars better, but for that moment it didn’t matter. In this coliseum, all that mattered was who put on the better show. And in that regard, a demon, energy orbs, and visible effort definitely made for more interesting entertainment.

                “Well, that went exactly as expected,” Hexcellent said. She was the only one of the three who could speak without panting, as Galvanize and Bubble Bubble were both trying to catch their breath. “Greene’s going to be pissed.”

                “I don’t know about that,” Owen replied. “Let’s see how the coverage comes out before we assume we’re in trouble. Worse comes to worse, we’ll tell him I refused to go out and you all did the best you could.”

                “You know he won’t buy that,” Zone said.

                “Probably not, but he already dislikes me, so he’ll happily let me be blamed.” Owen nodded to the field, where the Wild Bucks were getting into position for their next match. “Now let’s be good sports and watch the rest of the contest. Some of these are bound to be interesting.”