Gabriel concentrated hard. The Packed Man was his favourite pub for a reason, and that reason was that the ale it sold was cheap. It tasted like five-year old vomit, but after he'd gone three rounds against a man with a punch like a steamroller on snuff there wasn't much that he could taste anyway. Or feel, for that matter. Or see. Or hear. Or say.
"So let me get this right," he slurred to his manager-slash-trainer. "You want me to fight a guy name Lucy? That's not a guy's name."
"It's Luce, not Lucy," explained Hector with exaggerated patience. "And he's not just a guy. He's the guy. Luce Ythor, the up-and-coming star of the ring. He's undefeated. If you defeat him, you will be the up-and-coming star of the ring."
Gabe thought about this. Then he thought about how there were two ales in front of him, which was weird, because he only had one mouth. But maybe if he picked both of them up at once he could fit two ales into his one mouth? That was practically fucking mathematical right there. Unfortunately, when he went to pick them up with his left hands, he somehow missed the handles completely and only ended up knocking them both all over his lap.
"Gabe, I'm waiting," Hector reminded him
"Right," Gabe said. "You wanted me to do... something?"
"Fight," Hector repeated. "I guarantee, fight this man Ythor and you will one day be the King of Fighters. You'd like to be the King of Fighters, wouldn't you, Gabe? And all you need to do is knockout Luce Ythor."
"Is there a Princess of Fighters?" Gabe mused. "I mean, I'd much rather be King, of course-"
"I'll take that as a yes," said Hector.
"-but I bet the Princess has a prettier crown," Gabe finished. He looked around for his mug of ale. Unable to find it, he left his chair and went to buy another. When he got back, Hector had gone.
By the time Gabe left the pub, the sun was rising. He figured he had enough time to get home and shower before he had to meet Hector for that morning's training, so once he had figured out which direction home actually was, he set off. He hadn't got very far when a sound stopped him.
Gabe stopped in his tracks, and spun around. This proved to be a mistake - although he stopped spinning almost straight away, the world continued to do so for some time, and he had to shut his eyes as tightly as possible until it had stopped.
Gabe opened his eyes and found himself looking at someone - probably a male someone, although after the last time he wasn't willing to bet on it, because apparently accidentally refering to a woman as a man was offensive or some shit - wearing a black cloak, with a hood pulled down so low that it completely obscured their face. "Don't you mean 'psssst'?" he asked.
"I have a tem'orary allergy to that letter," the shady figure said testily. "Look, are you going to come talk to me or not?"
"I don't know," Gabe answered warily. "Are you going to offer to take me to see a unicorn and then take me into a warehouse and try and touch me in my special place?" Again, experience had taught him to be careful on this point.
"No," the figure sighed. "I'm here to give you a dire warning. You must not fight Luce Ythor. If you do, the outcome will be... catastrophic."
Gabe's mother had always warned him against talking to strangers; but then, Gabe's mother had also told him that he'd go blind if he kept playing with himself, and she had been wrong about that. Besides, catastrophic outcomes sounded interesting.
"Tell me more," he said.
"What the fuck," Gabe said. "What the actual fucking fuck."
"Your manager, Gabriel, is not human," the hooded man said, for the second time. They were in what was apparently the hooded man's office, a cramped and comfortable room in the middle of town. "He is, in fact, Satan!"
"His name's Hector," Gabe objected. What the hooded man was saying seemed plausible, though. Hector had always been a very good manager-slash-trainer, but that fact that he was seven feet tall, had a tail, and carried a pitchfork, had always seemed a little off.
"No, he's just... 'retending to be called Hector. This is Satan, all right. You know, the Devil. The Accuser. The Fallen One. The 'rince of Darkness."
"OK, I get it," Gabe snapped. "I'm not a fucking moron. But why the fuck is he training me to box?"
"He isn't training you to be a boxer per se," the hooded man explained, "he's training you to fight Ythor. Ythor has been chosen by a Higher 'ower to do great deeds. However, if he is sto'ed now, before he has the chance to take the title of the King of Fighters, he'll never get to do them."
"What kind of great deeds?" That probably wasn't the right question to ask, but Gabe was kind of reeling from learning that his manager-slash-trainer was the embodiment of fucking evil.
"Oh, you know." The hooded man seemed a little vague on this point. "Saving little old ladies, and babies, and... kittens. That kind of thing."
"And Hector is trying to stop him from doing all that?" Gabe asked.
"He's not Hector, he's - yes. Hector is trying to sto' him from doing all that."
There was only one word for people like Hector, Gabe knew, and only one thing to do to them.
"That dick!" he cried, and left the office at a sprint.
"Fighting the Devil was probably not the best career move you ever made," the hooded man told him afterwards. He'd turned up at the Packed Man and sat down next to Gabe, uninvited.
"What? I won didn't I?"
"Yes, you won the fight; but the Devil is not so easily defeated. I imagine life is going to be rather difficult for you from now on. You won't see success as a Prize Fighter - or as anything else, very likely. The odds are stacked against you now. The Devil won't just be out to get you in a general way. He'll be out to get you personally."
Gabe took a large gulp of ale before he replied. "Well, as long as I can still punch things," he said cheerfully. "There's bound to be someone who needs something punched."
"Actually, as it happens, I could do with a man of your... talents." The hooded man paused for a moment, and then gave an embarassed cough. "Excuse me, but I don't believe I ever introduced myself properly. My name is Tycho Brahe, and I recently founded a detective agency... of a sort."
"Is there a lot of punching in detective work?" Gabe asked.
"More than you could possibly imagine," Tycho replied.
"Then count me in," Gabe told him, and drained his mug.