Styles crossed the finish line and swore. As he took off his helmet, preparing to get out of The Cursed Conundrum, he noted the approaching mechanic and gave him a stern look. “This isn’t working,” said Styles. “There’s still too much drag.”
“I know,” said the mechanic. “I think it’s the filter. We need to change it. Sorry, Styles.”
Styles had never known how to be angry at someone who’d apologized. “Well that’s why practice, isn’t it?” Currently, they were on the training circuit just outside the Formula-X Racing Clubhouse. Styles waited while the mechanic tweaked what they could and spent the time looking browsing the Formulary. One series of posts that caught Styles’ attention was the interactions between the F-X Queen and one of her opponents from last week, Doris Koek.
While Devì had attempted to congratulate her opponents on their performances in the main event of last week's episode, ‘The Nunnery’ – having come last in the 3-way contest – took exception resulting in Glenwood Jacobs intervening and sanctioning a relay race between the teams of Devì & Fiona and Brenda & Doris Koek.
Styles simply smiled and rolled his eyes. Freaking sports entertainment man, thought Styles. Styles was still waiting when his practice session was suddenly interrupted by three approaching women dressed in very revealing outfits.
“Well if it isn’t ‘Mister Monday Night’,” said Brenda, the eldest sister.
“Preparing to kick ass and take names, huh?” added middle sister, Doris. As Doris was speaking, Styles’ eyes had naturally veered south of her face and parked on her torso, almost studying her bosom and slim belly. It took what felt like forever for Styles to finally avert his eyes catching those of the youngest sister, Teresa who smirked and mouthed “she’s up there, stud”, to him giving Styles a sheepish smile. Doris hadn’t noticed any of this.
“So are you ready for tonight?” asked Brenda, mercilessly changing the subject. “I hope you are because I’m rooting for you.”
“You are?” asked Styles, surprised considering that she was the one he’d beaten to advance to the semi-finals.
“Yep. Look, if I’m going to lose in the opening round of a tourney, it’s much better to lose to the guy who’s going to win the whole damn thing.”
“Yeah,” added Doris. “So you better win, Crusader.”
“You sound like Thawn,” said Styles.
“Speaking of that jackass,” said Teresa, seamlessly pulling out a green R10 bill and handing it to Brenda who hid a smile, “you should be looking over your shoulder. After what that guy said, he’s clearly out to get you, Stevie and Touch.”
Teresa was talking about Thawn Oberhauser announcing to the fandom that he was going to avenge his loss of Gauntlet IV from The Second Formula-X Grand Prix. And he was going to do it by defeating each of them in the very near future. Fortunately, rumor had it that Thawn would be taking on Touch Mkhize tonight.
“Well Touch will have to deal with him this week because I got my hands full,” said Styles.
“We hear ya, Styles. “Brenda tapped her sister on her shoulder, starting them away. “C’mon girls, let’s get out of here, leave ‘Mister Monday Night’ to train. He’s gonna need it considering who he’s up against.”
As the three gorgeous coloreds left, he couldn’t help but ponder Brenda’s final words. She was right. Considering who he was up against, he needed all the practice he could muster. That was the only way he was going to defeat the former Formula-X King, Mandla Xulu.
LATER THAT NIGHT IN THE PADDOCK
Having practiced his heart out earlier in the day, Styles was the picture of calm as he sat in the paddock watching Monday Night Fuel kick off with the commentators doing a pre-show panel that to their credit made the Royal Tourney sound incredibly prestigious. Styles liked this because that in turn, made the Formula-X Crown sound even more prestigious in its own right.
Captain Khumalo and Miss Honeycomb continued by running down the competitors in the semi-finals including their statistics and achievements. This made Styles smile as this made him sound much more impressive than Styles believed himself to be as they had included his success in Gauntlet III and his headlining of Sunday Night Easter in Season 2. Of course, they had also run down his opponent, Mandla.
As the pre-show segment came to an end and the racing began – with John Kloof and Penny Potgieter finally clashing following their spat last week – Mandla came over to Styles, clearly looking for a psychological edge. “So, were you paying attention just now? Were you listening to what they were saying? Did you hear them rattle off my achievements?”
Without giving Styles a chance to answer, Mandla repeated them. “Twelve Rounds Derby winner; headliner of The First Formula-X Grand Prix; former two-time Relay Baron and Former Formula-X King. And let’s not forget that I’ve headlined eight – count them,” he said holding up eight digits, “eight – pay-per-views.”
Styles thought of something clever to say and smiled when he got it. “I think the operative and repetitive word in all of that is former but go on.”
Mandla gritted his teeth. “I don’t think you get how bad this is for you, Sithole. You see, you think this is your chance, your opportunity to get to the top but the truth is you couldn’t be further from the truth. And you want to know what the truth is?”
“Sure, why don’t you lay it on me.”
“The truth is that you’re nothing but a minor league, bee-plus player. You’re a career support racer, Sithole. And this opportunity that you think you have; this chance is actually only going to make things worse because after tonight, you’ll be the one thing you don’t want to be. You’ll be canon-fodder.”
Styles took this all in his stride, not showing that it had gotten to him. Instead, Styles pondered his brain thinking of how to get back at Mandla when he remembered how much Mandla liked having the last word and smiled once again. “You know something, Mandla. You think you have this in the bag because you’ve been at the top before but the fact is, that will be your undoing.
“You see, Steamroller, you don’t want this as badly as I want this. You’ve had it before so you’re just not as hungry as someone like me. And what you don’t realize is that as much as me losing tonight will put me in a worse position than where I am; it will be so much worse for you. Because after tonight, you are the one that will be canon-fodder.
As if on cue, the crowd broke into cheers. While it was for the ending of the opening race which saw Penny come out victorious, the cheers could have very well been for Styles’ verbal smackdown on Mandla. The situation was so poetic that Mandla was forced to walk away leaving Styles with the last word.
ROYAL TOURNEY: HEAT TWO – RACE ONE
By the time Styles walked onto the racetrack, he was in a determined mood. As if it wasn’t enough that Mandla had so thoroughly pissed him off, Thawn had also exacted part one of his vengeance plan and defeated Touch making for one very determined ‘Cryptic Crusader’. Styles revved The Cursed Conundrum, and listened to that engine turn over. He then looked over at Mandla sitting in The Shosholoza and smiled. Styles could feel it… he was going to win this one.
The race started off with a bang with the former Formula-X King taking the lead, eager to prove his words right. As the first lap finished up with Mandla still in the lead, it was clear that Mandla was well aware that he only had 10 laps to win the race (in contrast to the 15 laps that feature-races were used to in the weekly main events) and was holding onto the lead for dear life. Fortunately, Styles’ training accounted for Mandla adapting to support races and he began to fight back.
As the laps went on, Styles kept the pressure until the 7th Lap late in the race where Styles finally found a gap. But instead of simply slipping through it, Styles decided to humiliate Mandla by doing what he did best and executed a beautiful power slide and allowed him to make a breath-taking overtake. The crowd went wild as the ‘Cryptic Crusader’ took control of the race.
With Styles taking control of the race, the pace quickened with the excitement rising to an all-time high. The fandom could feel. They could feel the upset coming. Styles was in the lead, only one lap to go. He was about to win the race and go on to the finals and Mandla could feel it, the desperation rising as the suspense and tension rose. And then it happened… Styles crossed the finish line and the crowd lost it.
Styles was still buzzing from the win when he walked into the Winner’s Circle. The emotion was flowing out of him. So when Geeza Gabashe asked him his feeling on his win, he’d barely heard him. “It was a hard fought victory, that’s for sure. Last year, people said I was on the rise but I failed to complete that rise. This year, I won’t make that same mistake.”
Geeza then asked what he credited to his success tonight and Styles mentioned his mechanic as well as The Cursed Conundrum itself as if it were a person. But then Geeza mentioned his opponent: the winner of the next race, which was when, for the first time, reality set in and Styles realized that it wasn’t over. His journey towards the Crown and the feature race of Arbor Games was one more hurdle: the Royal Tourney finals starring him and whomever one the next race…
ROYAL TOURNEY: HEAT TWO – RACE TWO
Styles was back in the paddock barely able to sit still with excitement when Darcy Stevens and Jim Kieck made their way to the racetrack. As they did, Styles turned to see a seething Mandla attempting to make a bee-line for him when he was intercepted by Touch who asked him if he wants to be his guest tonight on his talk show. Mandla accepted, relishing the opportunity most-likely talk trash about him.
The second semi-finals started slower than Styles’ race, with Stevie and Jim feeling each other out. It was interesting to watch as the suspense grew as the first and second laps went by with both competitors staying nose and nose with no apparent leader. Styles loved what he was seeing because it told a story.
While Jim had been King once – as the commentators had made a point of pointing out during the pre-show segment – he’d only held the title for a couple of weeks meaning that he was essentially in the same boat as Stevie: he needed this victory to climb to the top and get a shot at the Crown.
In fact, the commentators pointed out that Stevie and Jim’s careers were so similar that they were practically identical in that they’d both had a taste of being feature-racers and had even headlined pay-per-views on more than one occasion and were now hellbent on getting to the top of the mountain. This race displayed that as both racers kept the pressure on. But as the halfway mark of the race came about, Stevie began to break away, gaining the lead.
Last week, Styles had been shocked to see the power-boost button used in the feature race as the use of the button on the Fuel Speedway had been unofficially discouraged due to the tight bends and was usually only used on the PPV street circuits. So, when Jim used the button to capture the lead, everyone – including Styles, the fandom and the other racers – were on their feet. To Styles, this showed just how much Jim wanted this.
The couple of laps saw Jim hang onto the lead for dear life. Unfortunately, Stevie overtook Jim towards the end of the 8th Lap and managed to hold it through to the end, taking the race and being announced as the winner of the race.
Styles looked around at the excitement in the paddock, cheers breaking out from the victory and Styles decided to get in on it. He smiled as he went down to the Winner’s Circle as he knew that this was Mandla’s move. He arrived to the Winner’s Circle just as Stevie arrived there and stared her down. Stevie – like all of the F-X racers by now – had become accustomed to the hallmarks of sports opera and didn’t back down from the stare-down, standing toe to toe with Styles. The build-up to next week’s finals had just begun and it was going to be one hell of a race!