The castle stood on top of a hill surrounded by a great lake, as menacingly as any castle might look when it stood upon a hill and had an above standard number of murder holes. Like, an unconscionable amount of murder holes. A number of murder holes that’s built into a castle because the head architect heard the term “murder hole” and was like, “oh, we gots to have more of these bad boys!”
You might think to yourself, “But why would this castle need so many murder holes?”
Well, that’s because it was the center of power in Fruitstadt.
Within the hallowed halls of this fortress of flavor was the seat of power in all of the lands, the man who ruled the scenic, yet diabolical nation of Fruitsylvania with his iron, yet fruity fist. The Devil Fruit. The Fruit of the Doom.
Baron von Blackberry.
Lightning flashed behind the castle, because of course it did.
We cut to the inside of the castle.
Baron von Blackberry sat upon his throne made of championship belts, a scowl etched on his face. His arm was already raised in the air, his hand curled up like a claw as though he were summoning energy.
Standing before him, united in purpose, were three cartoonish men.
The first wore a blue bodysuit, with a yellow lightning pattern all around it. Especially around the groin area. As though all of the lightning patterns were originating from the groin. His hair stood straight up as though it was in a constant static shock. His blue eyes were widened, as though paralyzed by a fear he knew he had but didn’t know it came in zesty ranch flavor.
His name was Beef, by the way.
The second wore a yellow bodysuit, with a red lightning pattern. No lightning patterns originated from his crotch, and we can all thank the animation department for that. His finely-combed black hair came with an equally finely trimmed mustache and goatee, and his Latino charm stood in great contrast to the stupid outfit he was wearing or the fact that he hung out with a guy calling himself Beef.
His name was El Janito, but just call him Janito.
We don’t know the meaning of the name, because that sure as hell wasn’t Spanish.
The third stood, in real life, at an even four feet tall. In animation form, he was only slightly shorter than the other three. His black hair did a good job at hiding one of his eyes, and the expression he wore underneath his hair was unconcerned boredom. He wore a regular suit. The kind you wore for business meetings, or hanging around at the water cooler talking about that time an astronaut was on the moon and killed another astronaut with a rock and how that’s pretty fucked up.
His name was Steve.
“Fools? Us?” Beef asked, bewildered.
“Yes. You. How dare you return to my domain with but two of the Ten True Fruits!” Blackberry shouted.
Oh yeah. Forgot to mention.
Floating behind the trio, there were two bedazzled pieces of fruit. One was a banana, true and gold. The Banana of Fertility had been recovered from the nefarious Professor Rave and the devious Great VILLAM. The other was the Avocado of Justice, floating true and just in a harsh and unjust world, which they recovered from the dreaded Legion of Dance and their nefarious leader, James.
“We don’t know how we got here, actually,” Beef said.
“I told you we should’ve turned around once we saw the magma fields,” Janito said, “But no, you said you knew exactly where you were going.”
“In my defense, those were very familiar magma fields.”
Steve chimed in, “IDIOTS.”
All three members of Mega Job turned back to Blackberry, who was looking quite animated with his irritation.
“FOOLS!” Blackberry repeated, “One does not simply skip straight to the end of the story having only done a fifth of the work! Mrs. Blackberry has not even started the feast, yet! My best lab coat is still in dry cleaning, and do you have any idea how long Fruitsylvanian dry cleaning takes?”
Beef and El Janito exchanged glances.
“Uh, a while?”
“At least seven entire seasons of programming!” Blackberry exclaimed. He picked up a wine glass full of non-alcoholic fruit juice and threw it to the ground, shattering it and splashing its contents forward.
“No! My super suit!” El Janito whined off-screen, “I just got it dry cleaned!”
“SILENCE!” Blackberry commanded, “Honestly, were it not for my crippling sense of fair play, I would destroy you right here and now and be done with this whole charade! Why are my mortal adversaries so foolish?”
“We’d be here all day if we were going to answer that question, but I do have an itemized list…” Beef said. He pulled out a scroll, and the moment he did, it unfurled straight to the ground and started to roll away from Beef and even out the door.
“Indeed,” Blackberry agreed, “Lorenzo! Escort these fools out of the beautiful, yet sinister halls of Mont-Saint-Blackberry!”
A giant ogre of a man stepped from the shadows, twice as big as Blackberry, and wearing a tigerskin loincloth. His horns and red skin were a pretty good sign that he might be evil. Yet, the voice that came from him was in a soft, apologetic Liverpool accent.
“Sorry ‘bout this, lads,” Lorenzo said.
He held out his hands, and magic began to form rings around his fingers. A gaping hole tore itself into reality before the three members of Mega Job, the edge like the teeth of a buzzsaw. Beef and El Janito saw this, and did the only thing they knew to do in such a situation.
They tried to make a run for it.
Things got sucked into the hole in reality that Lorenzo formed. Beef dodged out of the way of a statue of Blackberry, and Steve dodged a statue of Mrs. Blackberry. El Janito did not. He found himself in the warm and tender embrace of Mrs. Blackberry’s statue, and was sent flying straight into the portal.
“IDIOT.” Steve boomed.
He turned and dove after Janito, not because he was trying to save him, but because Janito was bonded to the Banana of Fertility. Wherever Janito went, so too did the Banana. However, Steve only reached Janito when he was already halfway into the hole, and was soon sucked in with him.
“Nooo!” Beef cried out. He grabbed hold of the fine carpet of Blackberry’s throne room, and he looked as though he were caught in a wind tunnel, his legs flying out. He clawed at the ground as he was pulled closer and closer to the big gaping hole in reality.
“Alright, that’s enough of that,” Coral Avalon said to Joe Fontaine and Sid Phillips as he walked in front of the big television set, holding the remote. “I leave you two alone for five minutes, I swear to God…”
Joe and Sid were covered in sweat, after a long period of training. Coral had been taking the pair back up to Seattle after every show since revealing himself as Baron von Blackberry to the two of them. Training had gone well… for one of them. Joe seemed to understand more and more about pro wrestling as things went along. Maybe someday, he’d be able to take that knowledge and actually use it for more than just taking beatings in tag matches.
Sid, on the other hand…
Well, Sid tried.
Actually, he didn’t. He very much didn’t try.
The powerbombs were still on point, as any fellow trainee in the Gates of Avalon Wrestling School could attest. If they could still stand properly, anyway. Avalon had spent a lot of the training trying to teach Sid how to throw a strike. After all, he couldn’t just powerbomb an invisible man to break up a pin the next time Joe’s soul attempted to leave his mortal flesh. However, every time he went to throw a strike, his arm would come up at the last minute to grab the head and powerbomb the living piss out of whoever was training with him at that moment.
Coral was a very good wrestling trainer, and he had a well-regarded reputation. Many of Bang! Pro Wrestling’s top stars came to him for advice. Even a few of PRIME’s, once they got past who the man behind the Blackberry mask really was.
But he always knew he had his work cut out for him with Sid Phillips.
After all, he was powerbomb incarnate.
“Aw, man. I wanted to see what was going to happen,” Joe complained.
“Do it on your own time, then,” Coral said.
“I thought you were joking when you said you were a cartoon character,” Sid chimed in.
Coral ran his hand down his face.
“Am. I am a cartoon character.” Coral deadpanned, “Look, do you want to beat the Bandits, or not?”
Joe and Sid exchanged looks.
“Yeah, uh… are the eGG Bandits really a threat?” Joe asked, “I could beat Bobby Dean if I make him chase me for like a minute. Maybe two, if he catches a second wind or something.”
Coral shook his head, turned the TV back on, and fiddled with the controls. He found what he was looking for. The match between the Bandits and the Blue Live Crew, just before Joe and Sid even entered the company.
They watched the action in silence, which concluded with Bobby Dean exploding a mannequin’s head off of its body with his butt.
Upon seeing this, Joe stood up and raised his arms in a loud, discordant cheer.
“YEAH! TAKE THAT, YOU GARBAGE PILE OF FIBERGLASS! SUCK IT! SUCK IT HARD! YEAHHH!”
Coral and Sid stared at Joe in mild disbelief.
Then Coral patted the air in front of him, and said, “Sit down, Joe.”
Joe’s fists were still raised in the air as he came back to Earth, or something feasibly close to it. He deflated back to his seat, “Oh, right… sorry.”
Coral cleared his throat.
“So, did Bobby Dean do all of that by himself?” Sid asked. “I swear, there was like a ghost or something that almost got pinned by the mannequin.”
“Oh, that was Doozer.” Joe said, “Dad said he was a pretty great guy.”
Coral and Sid both turned to Joe. Sid was absolutely bewildered. Coral was getting there, but his wheels turned better than Sid’s did.
“What?” Joe asked.
“Your dad knew fucking Doozer?” Sid asked. “That Doozer?”
“Yeah. Won the LoW World Tag Titles with him like twenty years ago. He still keeps the title belt on the wall of fame in his office. He has a picture and everything. The caption under it says ‘a really great guy!’ and everything,” Joe said. “Did you know that Doozer hadn’t aged a day in like twenty years? They must have some sort of Lazarus Pit in the Ivory Tower or something. Wonder if that’s some sort of eGG Bandit perk. I heard Cancer’s got some sort of cryogenics thing, too. Man, they get all the crazy toys up there.”
Coral cleared his throat, wanting to get this powwow back on track.
“So, Doozer. That guy clearly puts in the work. He’s in tremendous shape. He still moves well in the ring. He attacks in ways that, if you’ll pardon the expression, you can’t see. What you also don’t see, and this is something a lot of people overlook with him, is that he doesn’t give up. He never gives up. The man will try to defeat you with his hustle. His loyalty to the Bandits means that you can’t just gang up on Bobby and expect to win. And his respect for the sport of professional wrestling…”
Then he shook his head.
“My point is, you definitely don’t underestimate Doozer.”
Coral hesitated, as he considered the still image of Bobby Dean sitting on the broken chest of El Hijo del Super Cool Guy.
”Now, uh… Bobby…”
Beef flew into the clearing, tumbling into a roll. He rolled several more times than physics and momentum should’ve allowed even by the standards of cartoon physics, and landed sitting up.
Moments later, the Avocado of Justice flew in and beaned him in the back of the head.
He fell to the ground clutching his head.
He whimpered a little.
“Nooo, Mrs. Blackberry!” El Janito shouted from underneath the plastic statue of Baron’s beloved betrothed. “Her kisses are cold and plastic! Just like her heart!”
“Can I just say how fucked up it is that your animation studio made your wife into a mannequin for this cartoon?” Joe asked.
Coral looked bewildered, his head ricocheting between the television and Joe, “How the hell did you get the remote to this TV? It was just in my hand.”
Joe shrugged, and watched as Coral reached out his hand, expecting the remote back.
Joe handed it back to him after a moment’s hesitation, and Coral took it back with him to the TV. He changed the channel back to the match with the Crew and the Bandits.
“Okay, so Bobby. Uh, the thing you need to know about Bobby is that, yeah… okay, we all know that he’s not exactly in the best shape of his life. He moves like a majestic, beautiful eagle carrying a blimp. We all get it. As far as I’m concerned, he can live his life how he wants, and we shouldn’t spend any of our time shaming him for it.” Coral said. “Are we all in agreement on that?”
“Yup.” Joe said, “Agreed!”
Sid merely nodded with the confidence of a man who looked at a man like Bobby Dean and knew deep within his heart, shaped like a powerbomb, that he could still do exactly what he had become known for.
“Good. So, I want this to be clear. You really don’t see too many guys like Bobby Dean at this level of the game. So, I think Bobby has the heart of a champion somewhere deep in there. Way deep. I mean, you’ll have to send a search party and hire the services of both Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot to find it, but it’s there. It’s easy to write off Bobby.” Coral said. He rewinds the tape, then plays it again. The mannequin went splat, “That’s how he gets you.”
“Fuck you,” Joe whispered as he watched what he could only hope was the mannequin experiencing unimaginable pain.
“Did you say something, Joe?”
“Uh, no. Not to you, anyway.” Joe said.
Coral eyed him suspiciously, but shrugged his shoulders.
“Bobby Dean is a lot of things. But he doesn’t give up, and neither does Doozer. They’re gonna keep doing eGG Banditry until, probably, the day Cancer Jiles dies and we have to bury his T-shades in an unmarked plot of ground somewhere in Wisconsin, surrounded by his most hated enemies. The least we can do, as the Winds of Change, is to follow that example and not give up, either.” Coral said.
“That’s really specific. The Jiles thing, I mean.” Sid said.
Coral smiled a little, “I have my dreams, too.”
After recovering from being rudely deposited from the Mont-Saint-Blackberry by way of an interdimensional portal, the trio of Mega Job gathered themselves and took in their surroundings.
They were in a large clearing, surrounded by forests. A gentle stream cut through it.
Beef turned to El Janito, and said, “Gentlemen, I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore.”
“No, because I think we were in Fruitsylvania, and that’s definitely not in Kansas. Actually, I’m not sure where it is. Or where we are.”
“No, Steve, we’re not in Wisconsin, either. Probably not either of the Dakotas, either. Taking a 50/50 on whether it’s Montana, though. Also, if anyone sees a bear, just know that I only need to be faster than the two of you.” Beef said.
There was a heavy silence in the air.
No bears appeared.
Not yet, anyway.
“Man. What do we do? We’re so far from civilization, aren’t we?” Janito asked. The three of them had started walking, not sure which direction led to the civilization they so needed.
“Yeah, and we don’t know where the next Fruit is, either. There’s eight more of them out there.” Beef said.
“We never should’ve opened that fridge and gotten mixed up in that quest to go get all ten of them and challenge Baron von Blackberry,” Janito said, “Who knew that opening a random fridge you find in a derelict shopping mall could have such ramifications?”
“SURRENDER?” Steve asked.
Beef shook his head.
“No,” Beef said, “No surrender. No giving up. What would our parents think?”
“Wait, we have parents?” Janito asked. “Uh, I mean, which set of parents? I can’t keep all our backstories straight anymore.”
“Alright. What would our… uh, non-specific elder figures in our lives think if we abandoned this quest just when it starts getting hard?” Beef asked.
Janito thought about it.
“They’d be pretty disappointed, huh?” Janito asked, “All our non-specific elder figures, some of whom love us very much.”
“Yeah. At least one or two.” Beef said.
There was a long silence between the three of them, and…
“Back at it again?” Coral asked Sid.
It was the following day, and Sid had walked into the Gates of Avalon. Conspicuous by his absence was Joe, who was fashionably late despite the fact that the two were usually in each other’s company.
The Gates were busy that day, some of the students running drills with the head coach of the school, Franco Marchesi. Franco saw Sid come in, and had his eyebrow raised at the sight. He then gave a glance to Coral, as though he was trying to psychically tell the boss that he didn’t want to have all of the students take powerbombs again.
“Well, I don’t think Franco would want you to powerbomb anyone today, judging from the mean mug he’s giving us.” Coral said. “You’ll have to stick with the heavy bag for now.”
Sid closed his eyes.
“Something up, big guy?” Coral asked, as he led Sid to the bag.
“Not really, just… that stuff you said about the Bandits, and not giving up. Is that true?” Sid asked, “They don’t give up?”
“They’re still here, aren’t they?” Coral asked. “Think about it. They lost Survivor. They didn’t make it to the end of the tag gauntlet that you guys won. They hang out with Jiles. All of that would’ve made a lot of other teams quit, but they didn’t. They’re still here, throwing eggs and blueberries at people and giggling hysterically as they run away. They still compete. I guess they have fun doing what they do. That’s my guess, anyway.”
Coral shrugged, as he braced himself behind the heavy bag.
Sid stared at the bag for a few moments.
“You know, I really thought this wasn’t for me. The wrestling, I mean.” Sid said, “I know dad was big into it, but… I never really saw myself as a wrestler. It’s why I don’t care that much about doing other moves. I always want to get the wrestling over with as soon as possible.”
He closed his eyes, let out a breath, and then hit the bag with his elbow hard enough to push Coral back an inch or two. It certainly caught Coral by surprise, being on the other end of it.
“Sorry.” Sid apologized, “Anyway, uh… I decided that I might as well not give up, either. Dad wouldn’t forgive me if I let the Bobby Deans of the world rule wrestling.”
Coral nodded. Knowing Daniel Phillips, he wouldn’t.
Then he thought about what just happened.
“Wait. You… elbowed this thing.”
“How come you didn’t go straight for the powerbomb?” Coral asked.
“Don’t be ridiculous, it’s attached to the ceiling.” Sid said.
Coral ran his hand down his face.
These morons were going to be the end of him.
Mega Job discovered that they weren’t in Montana the moment they finally saw civilization, tried to talk to someone, and got a response in Finnish.
Beef’s attempts to communicate with them ended with them being chased out of the village and back into the forests from which they came, because he somehow managed to say “we came to feast on your young” instead of “we could use some help”.
As they camped out that night in their makeshift tent, they watched the myriad stars as they did star things. Like sparkling.
All the while, they knew that tomorrow would be another day, and that they’d have to continue their quest to find the Ten True Fruits.
Because they weren’t going to give up.