"I have to stop you," said Mr. Red, stalking towards Skin, cracking his knuckles in time with each step. "Even if it means breaking every single bone in your body."
"Is that really necessary?" asked Dr Skin, stifling a yawn.
"I've got to."
"Yeah," said Skin, reaching inside his jacket pocket. "Well, I've still got the fucking gun."
He whipped out the pistol from under his jacket, but Mr. Red just watched impassively as it broke apart into a dozen little pieces in Skin's hand. Each of those pieces broke up even further as they fell out of Skin's grip, until only dust hit the ground.
"Bugger," moaned Skin.
"Like I said," continued Mr. Red. "If I have to break all your bones to stop you, I will."
"That's harsh," said Skin as he backed away from him, looking desperately for anything, any weapon or object that could give him an advantage, unfair or otherwise. But apart from Max's broken spade, there was nothing. It truly was a wasteland.
Skin backed up even faster as Mr. Red increased the pace. "I mean, are you even going to break those tiny little bones in my inner ear?"
"Every bone," said Mr. Red, flexing his fingers before forming them back into fists. "Whatever it takes."
Skin glanced over at Max to see if she would be of any use, but Max just shrugged helplessly.
"I'm no good at fighting," she mumbled apologetically. "Really, I'm rubbish. I've only been in one fight and I had my he-"
"Some other time, Max," said Skin just as Mr. Red reached him.
Up close, Skin finally had the chance to see how big his opponent was. Although he shared the same suit and face as the previous colour coded entities he had run into, Skin saw that Mr. Red was considerably bigger than his earlier counterparts and a lot bigger than Skin himself. Each of his fists was the size of Skin's head. If this fight was going to be a test of strength, then Skin had already lost.
Luckily, Dr Skin was not afraid to cheat.
He waited until Mr. Red had just stepped in range, then lashed out and kicked him as hard as he could, right in the groin. Mr. Red's face went a subtle shade of purple and he breathed out a heavy, pained breath.
"That's not fair," he moaned, but Skin wasn't finished yet. He reached forward and poked Mr. Red in the eyes as hard as he could. As the bigger man cried out and covered them, Skin leaped up and kicked him in the throat.
"Yeah!" cried Max, caught up in the moment. "Go Skin! Fuckin' get into him!"
Mr. Skin staggered back a step and Skin leaped at him, but Mr Red suddenly recovered and pivoted away from Skin's blow, pushing him away with his giant palms.
"Um, no," said Max helpfully, "that isn't quite what I meant."
Mr. Red shot Max a dirty look before turning his full attention back to Skin. "This was just a job, Doctor. Now you've made it personal."
"It's always personal," said Skin, turning his head slightly and spitting onto the dry ground. As he turned back he didn't even see that the earth closed up around his spit and swallowed it whole. "It's no use fighting if you haven't got a stake in it."
Mr. Red paused for a second, a strange look that managed to combine puzzlement and amusement on his face. "There are no stakes here. I am going to stop you from breaking that which should not be broken. It's as simple as that."
"You can try, you fuck," sneered Skin, and Mr. Red's eyes blazed as he headed in again, but Max stopped them both.
Dr Skin and Mr. Red both turned to look at Max at the same time and even managed to voice their query at the exact same moment. "WHAT?"
"Um," said Max nervously. "I just wanted to know what you mean, what can't be broken? I mean, as far as I've ever known, there hasn't been any rules that have ever been created that couldn't be broken. If the will is there to break them..."
"I am not talking about rules," sniffed Mr. Red. Skin relaxed from his defensive stance for a moment and began to pick some non-existent dirt out from under his fingernails. "I am talking about barriers, Barriers that can not be broken, that must never be crossed. The line between life and death, the difference between then and soon."
His eyes narrowed just a little. "And characters that should never meet their creators."
Max waited for the punch line, until she finally realized that that was it. "Oh, right."
Mr. Red turned back to Skin. "Anything to add?"
Skin stopped pretending to be fascinated by his fingernail. "No, not really. Could we please fight now?"
"With pleasure," said Mr. Red, suddenly lunging at Skin with a raised fist.
Never one to give up on a tactic, Skin went for the groin again, but Mr. Red spun around it, moving incredibly fast for his size, and swung his fist at Skin's head.
Skin ducked under it and moved past the overreaching Mr. Red, jabbing his elbow into the bigger man's gut with all his force and trying to trip him up as he stepped past.
But Mr. Red stood his ground and trapped Skin's foot, throwing him off balance. As he tumbled forward, Mr. Red grabbed him by the shoulder with one arm and yanked him back, using his free hand to drive a hard fist into the base of Skin's spine.
Skin tried to scream out, but the pain choked him off as Mr. Red spun him around and slapped him with an open palm right across the face. His cheek stinging like it had just been stung by a million wasps, Skin had no time to react as Mr. Red gripped him by the throat, squeezing tighter as he lifted him up off the ground.
Standing only a few meters away, Max was paralysed by indecision. She knew in her heart she should help Skin, but she had not been lying when she said fighting was not her thing. The one serious fight she had ever been in had ended with her lying bloody and broken in a pre-school playground. She would be less than useless against somebody like Mr. Red.
As if he could sense what he was thinking, Mr. Red glanced over at Max and smiled evilly, only looking back when Skin tried to speak.
"What's that?" he asked mockingly as Skin muttered and choked. He pulled Skin closer to hear him. "What did you say?"
Dr Skin actually smiled as he spoke in a perfectly clear voice. "I said you're really starting to piss me off."
He rammed his index finger as far as he could right up Mr. Red's left nostril. Screaming in pain, Mr. Red dropped Skin, who fell into a crouching position and rolled away as Mr. Red tried to kick him in his rage.
Mr. Red held his nose delicately. "I can't believe you just did that!"
"I do what I have to," said Skin, rising up to full height again.
"But you stuck your finger up my nose!" whined Mr. Red. "What kind of fighter are you?"
Dr Skin winked. "One that can improvise. Like you said, whatever it takes.”
Mr Red did not like that. He advanced again, and Dr Skin waited for him.