The stage was set. John and Mischa each had one year to gather a hundred companions for battle. They would fight in the Coliseum for glory, honor, and the lovely Cyprus Papandrou.
This setup, however, caused quite a few problems. For one, John and Mischa were supposed to be on the same side; very little could be gained from their fighting each other. For another, they were playing right into the hands of Josiah Malum, their sworn nemesis, and both of them knew it. Thirdly, this left Bill and Jeannine very conflicted, as they didn’t know whom to follow.
“There is only one fair way to do this, Comrade. We will let them decide which of us they wish to travel with,” suggested Mischa.
“John,” said Bill and Jeannine in perfect unison.
“Oh…” said a subdued Mischa. “Because I was hoping that perhaps one of you would accompany me.”
“You would hope for something like that. Come on Bill, Jeannine. We have an army to raise!” said John, confidently strutting out of the Coliseum.
“I do feel kind of bad leaving Mischa with nobody like that,” said Jeannine. “After all, he isn’t a bad person.”
“Stop talking, Jeannine.”
Mischa watched them walk away for a long, long time, then turned to Josiah, dejected. And trembling, of course. He trembled a lot.
“S-sir?” he began. “Do you think that m-maybe you could provide someone to ac-company me?”
“No. Get out of here!” commanded Josiah. “I finally have time to carry out my evil plan, and I’m not going to waste it talking to you.”
“What w-was that plan again, Mr. Malum?” inquired Mischa.
“I’m not telling you; you betrayed me! Oh, but it’s so evil I almost want to reveal it to everyone. In fact, it’s probably grown even more evil since I last thought about it. That’s how evil is, Mischa – like wine. It gets finer with age!” explained Josiah. “Now leave before I shoot off your kneecaps.”
Mischa trudged out of the Coliseum. He could see John and Jeannine off in the distance, laughing at Bill’s ridiculous antics. He let out a sigh.
“Abused by my boss, then rejected by my friends. I will win this battle, no matter what the cost! That will show everyone,” he said determinedly. “Nobody will kick around Mischa Petrovitch anymore!”
He started running, though he didn’t know whither. After a few hours he stopped, realizing that he had absolutely no idea where he was. Looking left and right, he saw an extremely well-muscled man walking toward him. He carried a bowie knife in one hand and was dressed in military camouflage.
Mischa’s heart skipped a beat. Finally, a ray of hope had appeared, in the form of a scowling wanderer.
“Hey you!” called Mischa. “Would you like to be in my army?”
“Yeah, sure,” replied the man. “My name’s Rupert. I’m a mercenary soldier. I specialize in battles fought over a beautiful woman, and I work best in groups of about a hundred.”
“Wow! Who would have thought that the first person I encountered would be so suitable?” wondered Mischa aloud.
“Who are you talking to?” asked Rupert.
“I was just thinking out loud, Comrade,” replied Mischa.
“You’re not a Communist, are you? My father was killed by Communists back in the Cold War. At his funeral, I swore to myself that I’d kill any Commie I met,” said Rupert, baring his teeth menacingly.
“No, I come from America, Comrade,” said Mischa.
“Really? You don’t sound very American,” countered Rupert.
“But I assure you, I am as American as…apple pie, and borscht!” insisted Mischa.
“Well, I do love a big bowl of borscht. All right, I’ll help you with your battle,” said Rupert. “But I’ll need payment.”
“What do you require, Comrade?” asked Mischa.
“My – my soul?” asked Mischa cautiously.
“I didn’t say soul. I said $20. I need to buy myself a steak.”
“I am sorry, Comrade. I do not think I can afford that,” said Mischa, disappointed. “All I have on me is $4.25.”
Rupert stood contemplating that for a moment.
“I guess I’ll take it. God, I’m hungry. Come on, Mischa; let’s get going.”
“How do you know my name?”