"47... 48... 49... 50!"
A fierce roar of a grunt sounded loudly across the nearly empty exercise room as the massive minotaur heaved the barbell back onto its rack again, the clang of the metal plates echoing around the large room as he laid there with a heavy breath and light shiver from his body trying to calm back down again. Behind him, the foxtaur spotting him helped to safely secure the barbell before giving the bull a wide grin and a playful punch to his shoulder.
"Well Mojalth, that's a new record!" Keno said with a swish to his fox tail, leaning over the bar with a smile as he looked down at the tired minotaur. "Man, I can't wait to see the look on Jarek's face when we tell him that his best weight has been trumped. I still say you were an idiot for trying it all because of a stupid dare... but you did good tonight, man. Heaviest weight that anyone's probably ever tried in the city, maybe even the whole state or country."
Mojalth smiled tiredly as he closed his eyes and decided to just rest there on the bench for a moment. He knew that shooting to break the record was a stupid thing to do and that he shouldn't have pushed himself so hard with a weight so far beyond his normal limit, but he simply couldn't resist the challenge of it all. Last week, one of the newest members of the gym, Jarek, had broken his old record for bench pressing. The cocky dragon had been boastful about it ever since, daring people to try to best his record, so the minotaur had decided that it was time to show the dragon some humility. It wasn't an easy feat to press as much as he had, but he had done it and beat Jarek's record by a decent 50 lbs. It wasn't much to him, but he remembered how exasperated and shaky Jarek had felt after getting the previous best; he wasn't likely going to be able to do any better.
"I'm going to be sore as hell in the morning, aren't I?" Mojalth mumbled as he opened his eyes and slowly pulled himself to sit back up again, one arm draped across his large gut and his other arm hanging limply as if it didn't want to ever move again after all that exertion.
The foxtaur chuckled to himself as he moved over to Mojalth's side, holding out his paw for the big bull. "Yes, yes you will, and it'll be your own damn fault for it. But for now, I think it's time to hit the showers and call it a night. How about it?"
He looked blankly at the paw for a moment then gazed up at the fox offering it, his body and mind feeling almost like a unsteady drunkard from exerting himself too much, before chuckling and giving Keno a gentle nod of agreement. "Totally worth it at least," the tired minotaur said as he grabbed the offered paw and pulled himself up off the bench, giving a soft sigh of relief as the pair of them slowly stumbled across the fitness center toward the changing rooms.
Feeling the soothing water trickle down him, Mojalth let out a gentle sigh as he slowly rubbed a handful of liquid soap down his sore biceps, his fingers trying to relax and loosen his still tense muscles as they massaged the soap into his brown fur. He had worked up a sweat more than usual that night and was almost dizzy from how spent he felt, but it was never anything that a good, long shower and pleasant night's sleep couldn't fix. The trick, as he had learned, was to slow down and loosen up, to take his time, breathe, and just let go of the tension. Normally, the large minotaur made sure to know his limits so that he never felt too drained after a good workout. Too many fighters, boxers, and wrestlers nowadays let themselves get way too tense during their matches rather than keeping loose, and that tended to only slow them down and wear them out all the quicker. But tonight, Mojalth had needed to push himself harder than ever to beat Jarek's record, and now that his workout was done, he needed to slow down and compensate for how much energy he spent during that last few reps of bench pressing.
The minotaur softly closed his eyes as felt the warm shower spray beat lightly against his large, plump frame, beads of water dripping down from his heavy but mostly-firm chest onto his surprisingly hefty, rounded musclegut. He knew that Keno had already finished up a short while back, he remembered getting a little annoyed with the taur after he had playfully shaken himself dry right next to him, so the shower room was empty save for himself and he could take all the time he wanted to. He softly placed his large hands along the tiled wall and bent his head forward into the spray of water so that it flowed down all around his face, feeling a trickle of the warmth run down his spine to his bull-like tail while the rest scattered around his wide shoulders and down his large body.
Despite having broken a new record, Mojalth felt somehow unsatisfied with everything still. It had taken all the strength that he had and more to top another person's score, and even then it was only a marginal victory. That just didn't feel right; he was a giant to the average fur in the city, towering over even most of the biggest of people that he knew. But yet, he only just barely managed to break this new record. He, the mighty Goliath of a minotaur, was exhausted to simply match someone else's strength. There was no guarantee that Jarek would not be able to beat his score again in a few nights time if he tried hard enough, and Mojalth wasn't sure if he himself would be able to do anything higher than what he already did that night. He needed to be stronger than this, bigger of a giant than this, if he was to ever keep his pride of being the biggest and strongest creature in the city! It was bad enough that he knew that there were likely naturally bigger people and species out there in other cities, massively muscular elephants or colossal feral dragons that can grow to be bigger than buildings, but to be only the biggest and strongest in his own city by a mere fraction...
The minotaur was jolted from his thoughts when he felt the snap of a wet towel whip across his back. He nearly jumped as he quickly turned toward the snickering foxtaur with a towel over his shoulder.
"Hey man, don't be trying to drown the sewer gators with all that water you're wasting..." Keno said with a grin. "You been in here nearly half an hour now, and the gym closes in 25 minutes. Get a move on it!"
Mojalth rolled his eyes in mock annoyance as he grabbed the shower head and diverted the spray of water to blast the mostly dried fox square in the face.
"H-Hey! Watch it!"
A few moments later, Mojalth sat down on the bench next to his locker with a grin as he dried himself off with a spare towel. Keno was busy trying to re-brush his soaked fur while standing in front of a heated fur-blower machine set into the wall, occasionally shooting angry glares at the amused minotaur for grinning at his obsession with having perfectly straightened fur.
"Not cool, man. Do you know how long it takes for a taur to properly dry himself off? Unlike you, there are some parts of me that just aren't easy to reach, and matted fur itches soooooo bad. I don't think any more details are needed."
Mojalth merely grinned even wider as he slipped his socks on and stepped into his pants. "What, do you need me to get you one of those back scratcher rakes so you can reach?"
Keno growled lightly under his breath at the comment and brushed more fiercely at his fur until he was satisfied that it looked fine in the mirror. "Well, I'm done for now, and it's definitely time to call it a night. You gonna be alright now? Don't want you passing out or anything on the way home."
"I'll be fine. Goodnight Keno, thanks for staying late and spotting me."
"No prob. Let me know tomorrow how Jarek reacts to being told that his record got beaten."
The minotaur chuckled to himself as Keno grabbed his bag and trotted out the door. Getting up from his seat, he walked over to the nearby sink and looked at his reflection in the mirror, already amusing himself with his imagination of the dragon's reaction. No doubt, Jarek would be indignant about it and probably accuse him of somehow cheating due to a lack of any witness aside from Keno. But he had bested the score fair and square, so the dragon would have to simply shut up and deal with it, much to the pleasure of about every other member of the gym.
And yet, he still felt that strange feeling of incompletion, the feeling that he hadn't gone far enough yet. Normally, he was fairly laidback about such trivial things, and it really wouldn't have mattered much whether he had "won" or "lost" the challenge given to him. He just wasn't the type of guy to let such things get in the way of enjoying life. But this was something different, because being big and strong was a major part of just who he was; he wanted to be the best [i]him[/i] that he could be, be the biggest and strongest of them all. He didn't want to just be strong, he wanted to be a Herculean giant, a titan of massive strength. He didn't want just a measly fifty pounds better than Jarek's record, he wanted hundreds, thousands of pounds more!
His eyes looked searchingly at the bull in the mirror, trying to imagine himself as a bigger and buffer creature. He was already a fairly large minotaur of what some people thought was humorously contradicting proportions. He stood towering over most people at roughly seven feet high and was built like an ox as the expression went, with his bulky, brown-furred body enlarged by the muscles he had worked hard to build on a regular basis. Yet for all his exercise, his big body was still a bit on the chubby side due to his lax attitude when it came to eating habits and snacking. His biceps were firm and his muscles strong, yet his hips were still wide and his large thighs soft. His once nicely toned abs were obscured from the plump musclegut that swelled out in front of him, belying the measure of his true strength to the casual looker thinking him to be a McDonald's addict, while his strong pectorals were slightly undefined thanks to his extra weight.
Sighing softly, he muttered to his reflection, "Maybe if you weren't such a fat ass and ate more protein bars instead of fried chicken, you'd be able to lift more than a measly 50 lbs over Jarek's damn record. Be the best, be the strongest there is, be bigger and better rather than... rather than just good enough to pass..."
Mojalth shook his horned head as though to try to shake the worries from his mind before turning around and grabbing his shirt. He knew it wouldn't do him any good to keep thinking about it like that, and he had at least done what he had set out to do that night. For now, it was time to pack everything up, head home, and crash down into his bed for a good night's sleep. Then come tomorrow (at least if he didn't accidentally sleep in for 24 hours again), he'd have the joy of seeing the cocky dragon's face when he found out about the new record. He grinned softly as he grabbed his bag and headed out the changing room door with thoughts of how the situation would play out.
Not once did he ever notice the figure of a wet black wolf peering around the corner from the shower room, listening in to the minotaur's conversation with his reflection...
There was something about the darkness of the gray skies the next day that first made Mojalth feel that something was wrong, the way it looked like it was threatening to rain but wasn't yet. The weather forecaster had said that it was going to be another warm, sunny, summer Saturday, but it was obvious by now that that was a load of crap. If anything, the wind made it feel unusually cold for that time of year, so Mojalth had needed to wear his hoodie for the first time since wintertime.
At first, the lack of sun had made him want to sleep in until the evening again, and his sore, aching muscles didn't object in the slightest to that notion. He had already slept in most of the morning, and his eyes didn't seem to want to do anything but count reps with his eyelids shut. But he knew that with it being both the weekend and an indoors kind of day, the gym was likely to be packed and Jarek was likely to be annoying everyone with his usual arrogance and boasts of being the strongest. It was far too good of a chance to pass up; the more people around when Jarek learned that his record was broken, the more humiliated he would feel, and the more humiliated he felt, the more likely he was to shut up and learn his lesson. Plus, the look on his face would be a priceless "Kodak moment" to everyone at the gym.
As he trotted up the steps and opened the gym door, a pair of wolves leaving at the same time accidentally bumped right into him, the one's muzzle growing beat red as he was pressed against the minotaur's large musclegut and causing his friend behind him to snicker at him. The wolf mumbled an embarrassed apology as Mojalth chuckled and stepped to the side so that his large frame wasn't in the way so much. They sidled around him and made their way down the steps, but just as he was about to head in through the doors, his ears caught a floating fragment of the conversation between the wolves:
"I still don't believe it. World record for his size and weight class? That [i]can't[/i] be right, he [i]must[/i] have cheated somehow..."
[i]Huh?[/i] Mojalth thought with a sudden alertness, [i]Are they talking about my new record from last night? But how would they have known about that? Why do they think I must have cheated? And what's this about a world record?[/i]
Something wasn't clicking. Normally when he felt unnerved by something, he would just shrug the feeling off and continue along his way and usually forget about it later on. But the words "world record" tugged at something in him; surely he hadn't broken any world records last night, Keno was pretty knowledgeable about such things and would have pointed it out to him. Feeling suddenly very apprehensive about everything, he turned and walked into the gym to see if he couldn't find out what was going on.
As he had predicted, the gym was fairly crowded that afternoon. Through the glass walls of the gym's lobby, he witnessed a various mixture of furs going to and fro and working out in the main room; some were younger, smaller sports trying to shape up so as to impress the ladies the next time they went to the beach, while others were older men and women obeying their doctor's orders to exercise better for their good health. Some were the usual overweight fatties who were unsatisfied with their size and trying to slim down, while others were already "big and buff" as the term goes, simply doing their routine work out session for the fun of it and the love of their own body. Mojalth had always thought of the gym as a place of possibilities. It was a place that allowed you to change yourself if you wished to, or else allowed you to stay the same and simply improve what you already had for your own health.
He saw several familiar faces around at the various exercise stations. On the treadmills, he saw the elderly pair of skunks, Mr. and Mrs. Romaine, doing a light jog while chatting with the other nearby joggers. Mr. Romaine apparently had lost his job ten years back and wasn't financially set for retirement yet, so had gained a lot of pudgy weight in his depression over it. But his wife had convinced him to come to the gym and work out with her instead of worrying over finances, and losing the excess weight gave him the boost of confidence he needed to land himself a new and better job. In the running track situated above the main floor, he could see Arymas the cheetah sprinting along at high speed in nothing but a tight pair of shorts and his running shoes. The cheetah liked to run in as little as possible, claiming that it was for the sake of his wind resistance or something, but the management had cracked down to make sure that he at least remained decent.
What caught Mojalth's attention though was the small throng of people gathered around the far wall where the barbells were, where there seemed to be some sort of argument going on. Frowning, Mojalth passed through the lobby doors to the main exercise room (an odd sensation for him since he didn't normally come in without changing into fitting work out clothes first) and strolled across to the gathering on the far side. Once or twice as he passed along the various people working at the machines, an eye would catch his with a strange expression that seemed hard to place. It was a look that seemed to be something of a cross between mild annoyance and disbelief, though he couldn't tell if it was because of him or something else. He was beginning to get a really bad feeling.
As he drew nearer to the crowd, he could clearly hear what sounded like a heated discussion between two people trying their best not to raise their voices to shouting levels. Looking past the various heads, the minotaur could see the very round figure of the infamous green dragon Jarek in the middle looking sternly at another figure close by, with his scaly hands placed on his extremely wide hips and an almost sinister grin on his face. Somehow Mojalth knew that Jarek would be at the center of this, and that cocky grin wasn't making him feel any better about his apprehension.
"Look, all I'm saying is that the new record makes no sense..." came a familiar angry voice, sounding as though it were trying hard to hold itself back and not to add any insults or obscenities, "And that we have only your word that it's even true. What did you expect us to think? I'm definitely calling shenanigans."
"What's going on?" Mojalth boomed across the crowd, causing the murmuring crowd to jolt their heads toward him and quiet down quickly. The people in front of him quickly jumped to the side to let him through, where he found Keno standing with his hackles all but raised in anger towards the round dragon. The minotaur had seen the foxtaur really ticked off before and it was never a pretty sight to see, so he could tell when Keno was nearing his breaking point. It took something big to upset him that badly though, and he felt a deepening fear that he knew what it was about Jarek that was causing it.
Jarek was somewhat comical in appearance save for his dark, almost sinister red eyes. Despite most drakes and dragons being a naturally large species, he was about a little more than a half foot shorter than Mojalth was, but made up for it with exceedingly plump proportions. His large, yellow scaled gut was larger and more spherical than Mojalth's own musclegut and could never fit right under any shirt he ever wore, while his puffy emerald green limbs didn't seem to show the slightest bit of muscle underneath the layer of fat. Like Mojalth though, his obese frame hid his true power from the common onlooker, and there was no doubt that he had inherited his species' natural draconic strength.
"Well hello there, Mojalth," the dragon said with a toothy grin, "I was wondering if you'd come in today or not, especially after wearing yourself out so bad last night. Mind stepping in here and calming ol' four legs here down? He seems to be a little upset about... something."
Mojalth shot Keno a curious glance and for a brief moment the fox seemed to calm down. "I figured since you didn't show up this morning to tell everyone, you were probably just going to take the day off to sleep in until dinnertime. So I decided to announce your new record for you. Jarek didn't take it too well..."
The foxtaur smirked for a second at the round dragon while the latter snorted in annoyance, before Jarek resumed his almost malicious grin as he continued the story for Keno.
"You're one to talk, four legs. Anyway, as it happened, you breaking my record did upset me a bit for a moment, but I decided to use your new score as inspiration to do even better. And 'lo and behold, I [i]did[/i] do better just this morning. Muuuch better. How much better? Oh, only about [b]250 lbs[/b] better! That, my friend, is a new world record for our size and weight class! I am officially a world champion now!"
Various murmurs and groans swept through the crowd around them again, but Mojalth barely even heard them. He stood frozen with his eyes widened in disbelief and thoughts racing through his mind.
[i]250 lbs better than mine...? That's... that's impossible![/i]
"Shut your mouth, Jarek." Keno snapped at the boastful dragon, his reserve starting to break. "There's no way this could be-"
"That's enough, Keno..." Mojalth rumbled at him calmly as he tried to settle his own nerves down. He knew that Jarek was seeking the attention and glory of it all, and he wasn't about to give him any of it. He had to steady himself and keep calm.
"But Mojalth, man, he didn't even have a spotter! He can't actually prove-"
"I already told you!" Jarek snapped at Keno indignantly. "I didn't need a spotter. I asked Zed to watch me so that I had a witness, he's my proof. He's probably still in the changing room if you want to catch him before he leaves, since you obviously doubt my strength."
"We'll be sure to ask him to verify it then," Mojalth said with an almost unnerving calmness in his voice. "Congrats in advance if he can vouch for you. Meantime, everyone here can go back to their work out, there's no need to huddle around us like footballers."
The crowd chuckled amongst themselves and slowly dispersed to the exercise machines around them. Mojalth had to work hard to hide a smirk when he saw Jarek's face drop in disappointment at his 'fans' abandoning him, the dragon clearly having enjoyed being the center of attention. He then turned his gaze to the minotaur and resumed his usual haughtiness while Keno grunted and walked away (a habit he had when he was really annoyed, so as to make absolute sure he didn't do something stupid like slugging the object of his aggression).
"What about you, Mojalth? Going to hang around to try to beat my new world record?"
Mojalth couldn't fail to notice the emphasis Jarek put on the word "world". He shook his horned head slowly. "Nah, not today. I'm still sore and not properly dressed, anyway. I'm just going to talk to Zed to confirm your new record, no offense or anything, then head home and rest up."
Jarek snickered and made some more idle comments about how it was okay to be jealous of how strong he was, but Mojalth was doing his best to just tune him out. As he turned around to head to the changing room, the minotaur caught a quick glimpse of movement in the corner of his eye. Keno was bent over the barbell still set in the rack over the bench, presumably left there earlier by Jarek. He was busy hastily scribbling across the weights with a white gel pen while Jarek was busy jeering at Mojalth, marking what looked like little white X's on each one. The minotaur was confused by it at first, but he knew better than to question Keno's reasoning and continued along to the changing rooms.
When Mojalth was far enough away from the boastful dragon, Keno trotted back up to him and placed his arm on his back. "Hey, are you okay? I've known you long enough to know that you're not always as laid back as you appear to be sometimes."
"I'm fine. What were you doing back there with the barbell?"
"Oh, that? I wanna check them out tomorrow to make sure that they're not, you know, 'loaded weights' or whatever you wanna call them. Something's definitely out of place, there's no way he can give just suddenly improve on his best score by a whole 300 lbs on a whim at the most suspiciously convenient time, especially without a spotter."
"You think he cheated?"
"Dude, his name is literally an anagram for 'a jerk', so I wouldn't be at all surprised if he did to save face. Just annoyed about the whole thing and suspicious enough that I want to check it out for myself."
Mojalth shrugged. "Suit yourself."
"What, you don't think that something's screwy about the whole thing? You're not upset about it."
"Of course I'm upset about it, and of course I feel like something's out of place. But at the same time, he did have a witness that can supposedly vouch for him, and it's not impossible for there to be people out there that are stronger than me..."
Mojalth stopped in his tracks for a moment as he inwardly repeated his statement. There are people out there that are stronger than me...
"You sure you're okay, man?" Keno frowned as he looked up at the distracted minotaur.
"Let's just check with Zed to make sure Jarek's claims are all on the level."
Even the clopping of Mojalth's hooves against the linoleum flooring were barely audible in the changing room when competing with the sounds of several showers running and the conversations between the men changing into or out of their exercise apparel. A busy men's changing room was always a strange new world filled with laughter from crude jokes and manly men talking about things they'd normally didn't let their wives hear. It was a place where some people could just let loose and be themselves no matter how vulgar, while others used it as an opportunity to try to make themselves appear more masculine than they really were outside of the gym.
Thankfully, the person they had come to talk to was the shyer type of person who just wanted to get in and out with as little embarrassment as possible, and Mojalth was able to spot him in one of the empty locker aisles having apparently just dried off after coming out of the shower room. Zed was sitting on the bench with a towel around his waist and a brush running through his headfur, idly looking up as the bulky minotaur and foxtaur came over to him. The brownish wolf wasn't anything impressive, merely a casual gymgoer who came now and again to keep himself in shape without trying hard like Mojalth or Jarek, who were both intent on lifting more and more and getting bigger by the day. Instead, Zed liked to stick to the treadmills and lift only occasionally, avoiding the latter for the most part.
"Hey Mojalth. I suppose you heard about Jarek's 'comeback record'?"
"We did, yeah," Keno chirped before Mojalth could reply, "In fact, we actually just came to ask you if he really did lift what he said he did. Says you were his... non-spotting witness or something."
"Yeah. After you told everyone about the new record Mojalth here broke last night, Jarek was absolutely ticked off. He stormed off toward the weights for about a half hour to work off some of his anger on his own, before he came up to me out of the blue and asked me to be a 'witness' for him as he tried to break the world record and 'prove himself once and for all'. I didn't really want to help him, but I was too nice to say no and I was getting too tired to continue my work out anyways. I thought it was weird that he refused to let me spot for him, wanting to do it all himself and whatnot, but it turns out he was fine. He managed to add on 250 lbs to Mojalth's record and lifted it up after a few moments of struggling, doing a good set of fifty with it and making it look like it was nothing before letting it crash back onto the rack again. I guess him getting angry about Mojalth's record really gave him the extra boost he needed to lift that thing, huh?"
Mojalth frowned as he listened to the wolf looking right past him as depressive thoughts raced through his mind again. [i]Made it look like was nothing? But I struggled like hell to do the weights that I did last night...[/i]
"You absolutely sure it was 250 lbs more?" Keno said with flattened ears, his hopes of proving Jarek to be a liar slowly spiraling down the drain.
"Yup, I'm sure. I checked the labels on each of the weights." Zed looked up at the distracted minotaur and sighed softly, giving him a pat on the shoulder. "Sorry you had to hear about it this way, Mojalth. I doubt we're going to hear the end of it now from Jarek."
The minotaur slowly shook his head. "No, it's fine. Really. But I think I'd better head home and rest, I'm getting a headache now in addition to my sore muscles."
A cool breeze washed over the city as Mojalth walked along the streets, followed by the low boom of thunder rolling in the distance. The minotaur didn't even look up at the sound, too lost in his thoughts to really notice the roaring heavens above. The dark clouds rolled in slowly, darkening the area, but to Mojalth it seemed only like a reflection of the mood he was in now. Instead of pausing when he felt the rain, he just ignored it, pushing past the slow drizzle on his way to home, rivulets of water running down his large chest and belly, soaking through his fur and his clothing. And yet despite that, he didn't even feel the chill of the water as much as the chill of defeat.
Normally Mojalth didn't take things so seriously; having a rival meant that he could push himself that much harder, work to become that much stronger because he had competition. But Jarek hadn't just beaten him by a few pounds in his last lift; no, instead he had absolutely crushed the gym record that Mojalth had set the night before. The thought that the dragon had cheated had buoyed the minotaur for a short time, but after their conversation with Jed, that hope had deflated quickly. The dragon had completely surpassed Mojalth in every way possible, leaving no hope for improvement that could ever match that sudden gap in their respective strengths.
Another boom seemed to accentuate Mojalth's mood, and made him think of the dragon's booming laugh, mocking him even as the skies continued to pour down upon him. Without thinking about it, the minotaur slammed his fist into a wall as he passed it, bruising his knuckles and hardly causing a dent in the wall despite the impressive muscles propelling the blow. He didn't know what to feel right now, aside from defeated and hopeless, and it was an uncomfortable blow to his normally optimistic ego. It was a confusing mix of feelings that just left Mojalth weak and sick to his stomach, eager to get home and just hide under the covers, to wake up the next day to find this nightmare gone. He knew it wouldn't happen, though.
Eventually the minotaur returned to his home, the large abode sized for someone of his stature. The doorways were higher than most to accommodate Mojalth's horns, as were the hallways and ceilings, but to compensate the whole building was only a single story high. The male's hooves clopped along the wooden foyer as he left a dripping trail behind him, the minotaur absently noting that he'd have to clean it up later, but Mojalth just wanted to go lay down, despite it only being midmorning. Water meant nothing to him as he stripped off most of his wet clothing and tossed it in a sodden pile next to his bed, climbing into the covers while still damp and soaking the bedding slightly.
Mojalth stayed at home for the rest of the day, not speaking to anyone or doing anything but laying in bed. Keno was worried about his large friend, but knew better than to disturb him right now; the foxtaur understood that his friend wanted some space and needed to think things through. That didn't stop him or any of the minotaur's other friends at the gym from worrying, however; Mojalth never took things this seriously, but he was taking this last hit pretty hard. Some wondered if that would be the end of his visits to the gym, if he would avoid the place in shame at Jarek's world-shattering record. Others thought that he might eventually bounce back, but still worried about how he'd handle his emotional situation now. Only Keno waited patiently despite his worry, believing that his friend would snap out of it.
The minotaur, on the other hand, had little reason to snap out of his current funk. He just laid in bed the entire day, staring at the ceiling and thinking things over. His mind bounced from subject to subject, whether it was Jarek's new record, how much the minotaur had put himself through the night before, or even just wondering how he could face the other gym goers who had expected him to trounce that egotistical bully. The only motions he made were to roll over, further tangling the covers around him, and all it did was add to the binding feeling he was getting from just feeling so helpless. After a while he just tore them off of his frame and tossed the sheets to the side, momentarily angry at how unfair the world was after he had put so much effort into his work. That passed quickly, and once more he went back to thinking.
The time quickly passed, and day turned to night. The moon had just started rising, and Keno was starting to wonder if it had been a good idea to leave his friend alone for so long. Sure, he knew that Mojalth was pretty hardy and would probably recover from his current problems, but at the same time the foxtaur thought that he should have been there for the minotaur anyway; not to give sympathy, but rather to be there and help his large friend to work through his issues so that they could move forward. Keno's bushy tail whipped back in forth in anxiety as he paced across his room, all four feet thudding quickly against the carpeting as he wondered about Mojalth.
Suddenly, the phone next to the foxtaur's mattress rang, causing Keno to jump, startled out of his thoughts by the sudden sound. Having four legs made climbing onto a bed frame difficult and uncomfortable, so Keno had simply laid a mattress on the floor with a blanket next to him that he could pull over his upper half. A few pillows had been set up so that he could rest his upper portion atop them, and there was a second blanket if it was particularly cold, for his lower section. Next to the whole setup was a nightstand with his clock and a phone on it, and the latter was ringing loudly to indicate that someone wanted the foxtaur's attention right now.
Quickly he moved over to the phone and answered it, wondering who would be calling this late. "Hello?" Keno froze as he heard the voice on the other end of the line, his ears perking up as he listened. "In an hour? Well it's sort of late... well, yeah, I can be there, I'm not doing anything... alright, I'll meet you in front of the gym in an hour, but... are you sure, bud? I mean you seemed... oh, alright. Just go get ready, I'll be there in an hour, alright? Bye."
The moon was halfway up into the sky by now, and the stars were bright where they could be seen, mostly hidden thanks to the lights of the city. The gym was still open, though it was ready to close any minute now, which made Keno somewhat anxious. They were supposed to meet in front of the gym, but the foxtaur had been waiting for nearly a half hour and still hadn't seen his expected company. He was starting to get a bit uncomfortable, trotting back and forth in front of the building, especially once he saw the lights starting to go out. The whole plan was going to fall through if the gym was closed! Keno mentally swore, hoping that it'd stay open just a few minutes longer so they could catch the owner.
Suddenly, a large figure emerged from the half-lit streets, and Keno's ears perked up as he recognized the large minotaur. Mojalth had a large gym bag over one shoulder, the one he usually carried whenever he went to work out, and he seemed a lot different than he had been earlier in the day. Keno had been worried that his friend's competitive spirit had been broken by Jarek's impossible record, but looking at the big minotaur's face now, it was hard to believe that he was anything but determined. The foxtaur felt his spirits lift a bit, and he quickly cantered over to his friend, a grin crossing his muzzle as he approached.
"Well it took you long enough to get here, hornhead! I thought for a moment you'd stood me up!"
Mojalth rolled his eyes as he walked past the foxtaur, giving him a slap to the flank and causing his friend to glare at him in annoyance. "I had to find my gym clothes; tossed them in a corner somewhere and they practically vanished. There aren't any buses at this time of night and I can't gallop like you can, four-legs."
Keno just grinned and trotted past Mojalth easily, showing that his four legs were indeed better for speed and running than the minotaur's two. "I was trotting, thank you. Maybe a little canter here and there, but why would I bother galloping? I could beat you in a race without pushing myself."
"You also can't lift half as much as I can."
"Hey, I can lift at least half..."
The two of them were interrupted in their banter at the gym's owner came out, a large, fit leopard whose spotted pelt seemed even more impressive as it was stretched out over a fairly powerful frame. Leonard, owner for the entire fifteen years that the gym had been open, knew the two of them on sight and quickly came over to greet them. Mojalth's height let him see eye-to-eye with the leopard, but that was saying something; minotaurs tended to be large of stature. Normally, most people looked up at Leonard, who was large for his lithe species in both his height and his muscled bulk. It also went without saying that the leopard tolerated no trouble in his gym, and had the means to enforce it.
Leonard quickly grabbed Mojalth's forearm in a powerful greeting grip as the minotaur returned the gesture, the two grinning at each other. Muscles flexed in a minor contest of strength, but neither put their full force into it; they knew their own power and didn't want to risk injuring the other. After a moment they let go, and Leonard exchanged a simple handshake with Keno, who was happy not to have his arm squeezed in a deathgrip by muscles twice as large as his. "Hey you two! Was wondering where you were all day. You guys always spend weekends here at the gym."
Keno grimaced. "Yeah... we ran into Jarek earlier, and that ball of scales ruined our enthusiasm a bit."
Leonard scowled; one thing he did not permit was troublemakers, and everyone knew that Jarek walked on thin ice in the gym. As long as the dragon didn't openly cause trouble, the owner couldn't do anything about it, but Jarek loved to sow mischief in subtle ways. It was obvious to all that there was no love for the dragon among most of the gymgoers, though he did have a few die-hard fans, but Leonard was definitely among those who disliked the dragon's presence. However, the leopard was a fair and understanding individual, and so played by the rules so long as Jarek did. It was said that he kept the dragon's membership papers hanging above the paper shredder in his office, however.
"I heard about that from one of the regulars. I find it hard to believe that that round little guy could lift half as much as he claimed, but he did have a witness, making his claims hard to refute. Doesn't stop me from being annoyed, though."
Keno shook his head. "I hear ya. We verified it earlier too, which means that it's real... it sounds impossible, but it happened."
Leonard nodded, then looked over at the minotaur, who had his gym bag hanging over his shoulders. "So what are you guys doing here? If you thought you'd get a moonlight workout in, you're a bit late. I'm closing the place up now."
Finally Mojalth spoke up. "Actually, we were hoping you'd let us work out tonight anyway. I was hoping to get some work in while Jarek isn't around, and see if I can push myself a bit harder. I don't think I'll make 250 more tonight, but at least I can get some progress in. I want to catch up to that scaly blowhard, you know?"
Leonard frowned, but after a moment he nodded. "Alright, you two. I'm going to trust you not to snoop around where you shouldn't, just to head to the weights room. I've known you both for a while so I believe that I can trust in both of you." The leopard fished through the pockets of his shorts before pulling out a ring of keys. He picked out one in particular that was a bit larger than the others. "Here's the key to the front door. The bronze key here is for the weight room. Lock up when you leave, alright?"
Mojalth accepted the keys with a nod. "Don't worry, we'll make sure it looks like we were never here. Thanks for your trust, Leonard."
"But of course. Best of luck to both of you, tonight." And with that, the leopard left.
Mojalth and Keno quickly headed into the gym, unlocking the door with the shown key and locking it right back after they were inside. They knew their way around the building and found the weight room within a minute despite the lights being out, unlocking it quickly as well. Once inside they turned on the lights for the room, since it was unsafe to lift in the dark; they hadn't wanted to advertise that there was someone in the main areas of the gym this late, but they did need to see in order to work out. The room was quickly lit by one of four rows of overhead lights, all they needed for the section of the weights room that they would be working in.
The area they headed for was in the back corner, with a large, reinforced weight bench for the species that were above the normal weight limit. Mojalth wasn't excessive like some of the bigger dragons, but he was still a fair deal larger than average due to his height and bulk. Keno was also on the larger side himself due to his four-legged lower half, making him quite a bit larger than a standard fox, though he often didn't do bench presses simply due to the awkwardness of doing so with his body; rather, the foxtaur had a separate facility on the far side of the room where he could stand on all four legs and just lift a bar that was set at chest height. But Keno wasn't the one lifting tonight; Mojalth was, and he was determined to do even better than he had previously.
Mojalth quickly headed into the adjoining locker room to change clothes, slipping into a pair of loose XL shorts that were made for his bulky frame and a tank-top that left his muscled arms free from snags. Tossing his daytime clothes into a corner of his locker, the minotaur paused to look at himself in the mirror as he headed for the door. For some reason, something seemed... different. Maybe it was just the confidence and determination he felt, but Mojalth had the feeling that there was something distinctly unusual about his reflection. He turned a few times back and forth, checking himself in the mirror almost as vainly as Jarek did daily, trying to figure out what was so different. After a few minutes, he finally figured it out.
The waistband of Mojalth's tank top was unusually loose, hanging freely rather than curving around his firm musclegut. That was unusual, as the minotaur had gotten into the habit of seeing his rounded middle stick out a bit, almost as far as his pecs. But now it was almost as if that gut never existed! Without thinking, Mojalth reached down for the bottom of his tank top, lifting it up to examine his midsection... only to have his jaw drop. His rounded gut was completely gone! Where he had possessed a bit of a belly before, now there was a firm six-pack of abs that looked like they were chiseled out of stone. A quick removal of his shirt completely showed the minotaur that all of the excess fat on his body was gone, leaving him looking amazingly fit and well-built.
Bemused by this sudden change and wondering where his excess weight had gone (not that he would miss it, of course!) Mojalth left his shirt off and posed a few times in the mirror, admiring his new body. While it wasn't accurate to say that he had been embarrassed of his extra weight while lifting, at the same time the minotaur had been opposed to working out shirtless like many of the gym-goers who had more muscle on their frames and could show off their perfect physiques. He could change in the locker rooms without rushing himself or feeling judged, but lifting shirtless had never appealed to him. Now, with a body like this, Mojalth felt that he could do so with pride.
The minotaur turned towards the front first, looking at his cut torso. His pecs appeared slightly more swollen while retaining a thick, defined look, like rounded blocks of granite sticking out from his chest. Below his chest were his new abs, like bricks moving down his leaner torso. His waistline was a bit thinner now, but that was only due to the loss of excess fat; now it was trim with muscle, but still thicker around than the average person's. His shorts were less snug than they had been before, thanks to the trimming of his body fat, and clung less to his rump and thighs than they had, though thankfully a tug on the drawstring kept them in place quite nicely.
Suddenly Mojalth felt a lot better about working out tonight, wondering just how far he could push himself with this new body of his. He questioned how he got it, where he had a round but firm gut before, thicker waistline, and a fair amount of body fat, but he wasn't complaining; after all, the minotaur had been meaning to shed all of that with a diet eventually! Now that it was gone, he was a trim, tight-bodied bull that looked a hundred times better than any of the gym's regulars, especially that round ball of scales Jarek. He had every right to feel confident and strong now that he actually looked the way he wanted to.
No, that wasn't quite right; Mojalth did like the body he had now, and it did look generally the way he wanted it, but it wasn't quite right. After all, Mojalth wanted [I]more[/I]! He wanted to big bigger, bulkier, buffer! While the unimpressive fat had practically melted off of his body, he was still nowhere near as large as he wanted to be. The minotaur had fantasized about enormous muscles in the past, which he was well on his way too, but he knew he wanted more. That would come in time, of course; right now, with the impressive frame the mirror now reflected, he had to test the limits of his new body.
There was a new swagger to the minotaur's step as he made his way out to the gym, striding over to the weight benches. Keno noticed his friend's confidence, perking an eyebrow but saying nothing, a bit bemused by the sudden change in attitude. Mojalth had been down and somewhat depressed earlier, determined when he had come in... and now he was feeling cocky? The foxtaur had to wonder at his friend's attitude, but he said nothing, hoping it was just a bit of overthinking. Keno took his position behind the bar, bracing his four feet against the ground so that he would have a bit more leverage to catch the bar if it grew too heavy for him.
Mojalth went to go get the weighted plates from the rack near the weight bar, a few feet away so that it wouldn't be bumped into casually by someone walking around but close enough that weights could be lifted and individually placed on the bars without having to be carried a long way, wearing out the lifter. The minotaur considered the rack, wondering just how much to put on, and then started grabbing several, starting with one or two larger ones at a time, slipping them onto the bar, then moving onto the smaller ones until he had exactly the same amount he had been lifting the night before, pushing himself to his utmost. But Mojalth didn't stop there; instead, he kept going, grabbing two more 25 lb. plates from the rack and slipping them on behind the smaller plates after some rearrangement, leaving him with a full fifty pounds over his initial record. It wouldn't be as good as Jarek's two hundred and fifty over, but progress was progress.
Once the weights were set, Mojalth settled himself beneath the bar, sliding back along the cushioned bench so that the bar was at eye level while still racked up. He gripped the metal pole with both hands, squeezing tightly to make sure that his hold was secure. Taking a deep breath, the minotaur started pushing upwards to get the bar off of the rack, forcing it upwards with both arms. The weight was immense already, and Mojalth's breath held as he tried his hardest to lift the bar. After a moment he was able to get it off of the rack, but then it nearly dropped like a stone as all of that weight fell downwards with no additional support. Mojalth felt the breath woosh out of him as he caught the bar, grunting as he tried to keep it level, but he was unable to even make it budge an inch higher above his chest than it was now, no matter how much he pushed and strained. He gasped for breath, trying his hardest to lift it without having to ask Keno to spot him and get it back on the rack.
Finally, as Mojalth's arms began to feel like lead, he managed to push it up one inch, two... slowly, but surely, it began to rise upwards. Keno let out a gasp of surprise; the foxtaur had been leaning forward, his hands close enough to grab the bar and help lift if it slipped, and he hadn't expected Mojalth to be able to lift it. Still, he kept himself ready to grab it; Keno could already see his friend's arms starting to shake from the load that he was bearing. But the minotaur continued to strain his body, pressing forward harder and harder... until his arms were fully outstretched, holding the bar above his body in a successful rep. With that he let out a gasp and let his arms fall, allowing Keno to catch the bar and help him ease it onto the rack again.
"That... that... phew... I got... I got it..."
Ken shook his head at the look on Mojalth's face; he was triumphant and determined still despite barely making a single rep. "Yeah, you got it, but I don't think you should continue. That one rep took everything out of you, and standard regulation for the gym is three sets of five. You'd have to lift that fourteen more times without a rest just to claim you made it fifty pounds heavier. You're pushing yourself too hard; take a breather, and then lower the weight. We'll work our way up to the higher levels soon."
The minotaur let out a snort, seeming annoyed all of a sudden. In his mind, it was only reasonable; he had managed to get his body down to trim shape (how, he'd never know) and looked to be in the best condition of his life. With all of that muscle now revealed and no longer shrouded by his excess weight, Mojalth had believed he could lift a ton more. Being proven wrong was not something he was going to let slide, and with a grunt he set himself beneath the bar, wiping his sweaty palms on a towel before gripping the weighted pole again. This time he lifted the weights a bit more easily, getting them off of the rack and down to his chest with only a little difficulty.
This time, Mojalth managed to get a full five reps in before he had to put the bar down, large chest heaving in exhaustion and sweat dripping down his fur and onto the bench. It was better than his first attempt, however, and bolstered by continued success, he felt the need to try again. After a few more minutes of resting and catching his breath, steadying his grip on the bar, he started his routine again. This time he made seven, for a grand total of thirteen reps with only a few rests. But it wasn't enough; he was starting to get frustrated with his inability to get a full three sets of reps, and forced himself to start lifting again. Unfortunately he didn't allow himself enough rest, and was only able to do three that time. Still, his frustration was becoming obvious.
Keno began to worry again, but he diligently spotted for his friend, grabbing the bar and helping Mojalth rack it back up every time the minotaur began to tire. The foxtaur's concern was evident as he helped though, and he was clearly worried about Mojalth's increasingly stubborn attitude. It seemed that the larger male was intent on pushing himself to lift more and more despite his body's natural limits just telling him he couldn't. At this rate, Mojalth was going to hurt himself by trying to push himself too hard, and Keno wasn't sure he could stop his friend, no matter what he had. Still, he tried his best to.
"Look, take a breather; you're pushing yourself way too hard here man. You're going to hurt yourself if you don't stop being so bull-headed! Pun unintended; no offense. Stop trying so hard to do something you're not able to do!"
"Stop talking and get back to spotting, Keno. I'm going to do this." The minotaur's suddenly gruff tone hurt the foxtaur, but Keno said nothing and just did his job with a frown. He had been worried about Mojalth all day, and then had felt better when the big guy had called earlier to meet him at the gym, but now he was wondering if that had been a false hope. Due to whatever had happened during the day, Mojalth was pushing himself harder and harder than he should. Was losing so badly to Jarek really so painful that the minotaur was willing to push himself to his body's limits just to try and match the dragon's stupid record?
This latest burst of indignation was enough to power Mojalth's muscles, it seemed, and as he settled himself beneath the bar, he lifted it with much more ease than before, managing to pull a full set of fifteen with the increased rate. Keno was surprised; he hadn't expected to see the minotaur finish his full three sets to increase his record, but here Mojalth had surprised him. Of course, the big bull was worn out and panting hard, with sweat streaming down his face and soaking his shirt, and he could barely sit up for a few moments while he gathered his breath. It was clear that he had gone beyond his capabilities, even if he had completed his reps for the attempt; any more would be impossible. It was still an achievement though!
Keno, of course, wasn't as pleased, and gave his friend a flat look. "Congratulations, you pushed yourself so far you lifted 50 pounds more and didn't quite break your arms."
Mojalth swatted the foxtaur's muzzle playfully, though he did groan at the ache in his arms. It was a good ache, the ache you felt after you pushed yourself to the max and succeeded, knowing you were that much stronger. Keno didn't seem appreciative of the swat and stepped back, glaring and waiting for his friend to finish his foolishness. For some reason, the minotaur didn't like that look, found himself irritated at it. Mojalth wondered what had his friend's tail in such a knot; after all, the big bull had just made a huge accomplishment compared to his earlier lifting! The two of them should both be happy, but here Keno had to ruin the mood with his attitude and bring Mojalth down. Why couldn't the foxtaur just be happy?
Huffing, Mojalth turned back to the weights. Well, if Keno couldn't be happy for him, then fine; the minotaur could lift on his own. Without thinking about it, he stacked another twenty-five pounds on each side, putting him at a total of one hundred pounds above his last record. It was still far below Jarek's record, but Mojalth didn't care; he was tired of dealing with the dragon's cocky attitude, tired of being second best. The minotaur got it into his head that he wasn't going to leave until he surpassed the ball of scales. It didn't occur to him how impossible that was; he was too angry to even think about it, or care about the consequences. Instead, he set himself beneath the new weights, and grabbed the bar with a grunt.
Keno tried to protest, and grabbed the bar to push the weights down before Mojalth could lift it off of the rack. The minotaur's glare, however, caused the foxtaur to step back uneasily. With a resigned sigh he placed his hands beneath the bar, ready to spot it as needed. He was thankful that Mojalth had barely been able to lift the last set, though; with an extra fifty pounds, he'd probably have difficulty getting it up off of the rack, let alone lifting. Odds were he'd just struggle and wear himself out, and then give up. With that hope, Keno braced his four feet, waiting for his friend to go ahead and tire himself, knowing that he couldn't possibly lift up the excess weight.
Mojalth pushed on the bar, and naturally he couldn't even get it up off of the rack, the weight too heavy. Sweat beaded on the minotaur's forehead, and he grunted as he pushed up, his arms and chest bulging as they strained, but with no progress. The effect was pretty complimentary to the big bull's frame as he strained, however, making his muscles look much larger as he tried to lift. After a few tries he stopped, breathing heavily from the exertion. Keno let out a relieved sigh and stepped back, letting go of the bar. The foxtaur knew that his friend couldn't have lifted the weight, and felt that it would probably be a good deterrent to prevent Mojalth from pushing himself too far. Maybe the big minotaur would rest for now, accept his limitations, and move past whatever was driving him so hard.
"Alright, Mojalth, enough is enough. You've done all you can, so let's hit the showers..."
"No!" Keno was surprised at his friend's suddenly vehement tone, and even more startled as the minotaur reached to grab the bar again. This time, Mojalth's straining was enough to lift the metal pole off of its rack, and Keno quickly hurried to grab the bar and hold it, but not with the intention of spotting his friend; instead, he wanted to make sure that the big minotaur didn't hurt himself by pushing himself way too far! He hadn't been able to lift the weight before, and even if he managed to barely squeak it off of the rack now, Mojalth would be more likely to drop it on his chest and injure himself. Keno tried to help pull the weighted bar back onto its rack, but Mojalth wouldn't let him, tugging it forward. Keno couldn't keep fighting the minotaur, unfortunately; that put too much of Mojalth's energy towards pulling it away, and if Keno slipped the bar would come tumbling straight down. In the end, the foxtaur was forced to help spot his friend, as unwilling as he was.
Mojalth lowered the bar with no difficulty, though he was careful not to just let it drop, where inertia would send it plummeting towards his chest no matter what he did. Once he got it down, however, only an inch above his chest, the minotaur started trying to push up once again. Once more, his muscles bulged and sweat broke out over his body, but for a few minutes the bar didn't move. Keno gripped the bar firmly, ready to pull back and help Mojalth get it on the rack, his own four feet set so that he could tug it upwards before the weight became too much for his friend.
But suddenly, the bar started rising, only an inch or two at first, but then another, and another. The weights were suddenly at the level of the rack, about two-thirds of the way through the lift, and a little more would have them at a full rep. The bar stopped once, twice, and almost didn't make it all the way up, but whatever was driving the minotaur led Mojalth to keep struggling anyway, and after a moment movement would resume. In about three minutes total, the minotaur had managed to lift the bar off of the rack, pull it down to his chest, and back up to full arm extension in a complete rep. Keno was impressed; he had thought the feat to be impossible, after the initial struggle with the weights.
Of course, the minotaur's arms started shaking at that point, and Keno was quick to help his friend rack the weights up. Mojalth just lay on the bench even as the heavy bar was set back into place, panting and wheezing, his whole body and the bench beneath him soaked in sweat. His arms were on fire, but once more it was the usual good sore, that sensation of pushing that much further in order to become stronger. It was a burn to be proud of, at very least, and the minotaur did feel that pride... though it was second to the level of ache in his arms. He groaned, feeling that tightness in his chest as well, and sat up from the bench for a few moments so that he could stretch out his tired muscles.
Striding over to the mirror for a moment, Mojalth examined himself with a grin; he looked more pumped than ever! Of course, he always looked a bit bigger after a good hard lift, because his muscles were all tense and flexed, but it hadn't been as noticeable when he had been a bit on the heavier side. Now without the extra weight, it was more obvious how much more pumped and solid his chest and arms looked, and the minotaur couldn't resist flexing a few times in the mirror to examine himself. Watching the muscles ripple and bulge underneath the layer of fur on his arms was certainly worthwhile; for once, Mojalth really began to appreciate the fruits of his labors, the amazing gains he was making.
But it wasn't enough. Even after looking at himself in the mirror and being impressed, Mojalth still couldn't forget that he was still being beaten out by a dragon that was a foot or so shorter and probably a few feet rounder than him. The minotaur wanted to catch up to the cocky Jarek, show him that he too could lift just as much as any draconic butterball. The dragon had his species' natural strength as well as his own from working out, but Mojalth was going to show that he could perform just as well on his own, without any genetic supplements to improve his strength. The minotaur wanted to lift just as much as Jarek... if not more. And he had no intention of leaving until he had done so.
Keno, who had been musing to himself over what had gotten into his friend, was surprised when he heard the clank of weights coming off of the side rack where they were normally stored. The foxtaur's eyes widened as he noticed that Mojalth was grabbing two of the biggest weights, each fifty pounds apiece, and placing them onto the bar after shuffling out the lighter ones so that they were at the ends. The weight on the bars now matched Jarek's to the pound, but then just to top it off, Mojalth grabbed two half-pound weights and stuck them at the end, putting the total weight at just one pound above Jarek's earlier record.
The foxtaur was normally supportive of his friend's endeavors, and though he didn't approve Mojalth pushing himself so hard up until now, he had been willing to give him a shot and be there to catch the weights if they fell. But this was just foolhardy! No one could suddenly lift an additional two hundred and fifty pounds in one night! At this rate, he was bound to pull something or tear a muscle, and Keno was starting to get particularly worried. He moved over to the bar and put both paws down atop it, and pushed down to add his weight to it; it was the only way that the foxtaur could catch Mojalth's attention before he started lifting.
"Mojalth, that's enough! This is stupid, you can't lift that much more in one sitting! You were impressive with the fifty, and amazing with the extra hundred added on for a single rep, but consider your health! You're going to hurt yourself! Or did your brain just run out of oxygen and stop while you were trying to lift that last one, huh?"
The minotaur glared, taking a deep breath, his nostrils flaring. "Keno, stop it. I'm going to lift this, whether you want to help or not. I don't care what you say, I won't stop until I beat Jarek's record! If you don't want to help me, get out of the way."
Hurt by the harsh tone, Keno did indeed back off. Mojalth gave a snort and then grabbed the bar, setting himself beneath it. With a grunt he started pushing on the bar again, his muscles bulging out even further as he pushed, struggling with all his might. Try as he may, however, the minotaur couldn't get the bar to budge. His arms shook, and hurt like fire was racing down them, and the soreness started spreading to his back and chest as he continued to try and push the weight upwards off of the rack. But despite his best efforts, Mojalth couldn't get it up and off of the bar. Yet he kept trying, the veins in his neck standing out from the supreme effort he was putting up in an attempt to get this bar up and off of the rack.
For a moment, the minotaur almost admitted defeat. He almost admitted that Jarek was just better than him, that he should be proud of an extra hundred pounds in one night. But Mojalth couldn't accept those feelings, couldn't just let himself be second place. Though he normally wasn't this competitive, the minotaur found himself wanting to do better, be better. His confidence had taken a hit earlier when Jarek had simply crushed his record, and upon reconciling it, he had found himself in an emotional rebound; instead of giving into defeat, he found himself desiring to be stronger, better, and able to lift more than Jarek ever could. And it was that determination that kept him from giving up right then and there.
Suddenly, the bar shifted, and lifted up a centimeter. It fell back down onto the rack, but it had actually left it for a moment. Keno, despite his hurt feelings, quickly ran up to grab the bar; already it was lifting up again, and this time made it an inch or two. Mojalth groaned as he strained to push it up higher, and after a moment it rose again, at its zenith above the rack. Keno gripped the bar, afraid now; he wasn't sure that he could lift the bar off of Mojalth without the minotaur's help if the weights fell; Mojalth was just too tired and that much weight would be too much for the less bulky foxtaur. But he couldn't pull it back either, and risk having his friend drop it now. Either way, they were committed to this lift.
Mojalth felt the strain throughout his entire body as he lowered the bar, panting heavily as he tried to bring it carefully down towards his chest. The momentum was hard to keep down as the weight tried to plummet, but slowly and surely he managed to make it down to his chest, holding it only inches above him. This was the moment of truth; if he couldn't lift it, the minotaur risked hurting himself severely. He panted again, taking a deep breath as best as he could to try and renew the strength in his tired, sore muscles, pushing upwards with everything he had. For a few moments, the bar didn't move upwards. In fact, it even started to descend, the metal pole almost touching Mojalth's heaving chest. Keno started to grab the bar rather than just stay in position, ready to lift it up off of his friend now.
"N...no!" Mojalth stopped Keno from catching the bar. "I... hngh... got... got this..."
With a renewed burst of strength, Mojalth started pushing strongly upwards, putting everything he had into it. His muscles were going past the healthy ache of progress and were starting to burn horribly, and his neck and back were starting to feel the pain almost as much as his chest, but he still kept pushing as hard as he could. For a moment it almost seemed like the bar was going to fall again, and indeed Keno started to reach for it. But then, after a few seconds of that stalemate, the bar started to rise again, lifting off of the minotaur's chest. Mojalth felt the slight shift, and it gave him renewed confidence, a short burst of energy that he needed to continue pushing the bar upwards. It took a few minutes, and the bar started to slip down once or twice as the minotaur's tired muscles protested, but eventually Mojalth managed to reach the pinnacle of his lift, the bar held in completely extended arms.
[I]I did it... I really did it...![/I]
Completing the task made Mojalth's body feel lighter, as if that success had bolstered him, made it that much easier to hold up the bar. Indeed, he hardly felt the strain anymore, and the ache was starting to fade from his arms. He wasn't sure if it was numbness or a second wind coming over him, but for whatever reason, the minotaur felt compelled to continue to push himself, to try and do another rep. And slowly the bar fell, with Keno watching carefully, expecting it to be racked up... only to be shocked as it fell to Mojalth's chest again. The minotaur grunted and caught the bar, however, and held it above his chest... before starting to push it up again! This time, there was no initial hesitation, though it wasn't easy getting it back up. Mojalth had to stop a few times, to catch his breath and renew his strength, but the bar went up more quickly this time.
Keno watched his friend in admiration, surprised that he could lift so much, and recover so quickly. Maybe he had been wrong to doubt the minotaur; after all, Mojalth knew his own limits, right? And he was certainly looking good while he did it; his pumped muscles strained his workout shirt, the sweat-soaked material clinging to his swollen pecs and his thick shoulders while his bared arms were no less thick. Pumping himself so hard was doing Mojalth a world of good, making his physique look excellent, almost enough to be considered a pro bodybuilder. It was amazing, to see how much a heavy workout seemed to change the bulky bull's appearance.
It was amazing, watching Mojalth continue. Though the first rep had been difficult, and the second one had been strained, the third and fourth ones came a bit more smoothly, and the pace continued. It was as if the weights were getting lighter, like some second wind was driving the minotaur to increase his pace more and more. Keno was impressed at the amount of difference a little determination had made, and continued to dutifully spot as Mojalth reached his eight rep. The two of them were making gym, perhaps even world history at this point with the amount that the minotaur had lifted, and he was already at his eighth rep; seven more and he could claim a new record that surpassed Jarek's, leaving the big dragon's words as empty as his head!
A loud rip distracted Keno from his spotting, and he noticed a tear forming along the front of Mojalth's stretched tanktop. The shirt was straining around the minotaur's swollen pecs, likely because the material was so damp with sweat that it couldn't hold together as easily. But to the foxtaur's amazement, the rip grew, and this time it happened as he watched. The cause was shocking; Mojalth's chest had grown an inch or two thicker, almost as if he had taken a breath, but it wasn't going back down! He continued to watch as the changes continued, and indeed after another rep, his pecs were that much larger, the shirt starting to really come apart along the front at this point.
The changes weren't limited to the minotaur's impressive pecs, however; Keno did a quick check, and was surprised to see his friend's whole body growing. Mojalth's legs, which were near the end of the bench even as they were to either side for support, now were just past the end of it, and were definitely thicker, causing the legs of his shorts to cling tightly to his limbs. The minotaur's shirt had slid up as well, revealing not just a chiseled six-pack (which would have been startling enough to Keno; where had the minotaur's gut gone?) but a full eight-pack that was throbbing with muscle as more and more mass was packed onto Mojalth's frame.
Mojalth seemed oblivious to these changes, however, continuing to lift with all his might, reaching his twelfth, thirteenth, and then fourteenth rep. At that last rep, his shirt completely tore along the front, hanging across his torso like some tattered vest and exposing his massive body. Pecs that had been thick, but partially with fat before, were even larger and pure muscle, the minotaur's thick chest looking chiseled and cut as if from stone. His torso had the perfect shape to it, thick at the shoulders and chest while tapering down only slightly into a thick, but firm and lean waist with its impressive abs. Thankfully the bull's shorts were spandex and as a result were very stretchy, as they clung to his body like a second layer of skin, the legs sliding up slightly to reveal thick, bulging calves straining with muscle.
The minotaur didn't stop at fifteen reps, however, despite it being the required amount for a complete set; instead, he was so caught up in his pump that he stopped counting and just kept pumping, letting his body tell him when he was done. Mojalth's body continued to swell with every rep he made, growing slightly taller and a lot thicker with every lift. His shoulders were almost big enough to press against the two support bars that were part of the rack, but thankfully he was low enough on the bench that his shoulders just barely missed being caught between them. He continued to grow thicker and wider by the moment, chest swelling outwards and upwards so that the reps ended up being shorter, while his arms thickened with muscle by the moment and made the weights feel lighter by the moment. In about five minutes, the minotaur's bulk had doubled, his body enormous.
By now Mojalth was starting to realize that something was off, and decided that he was done; he had easily done fifteen reps by then. He sat up after racking the weights, and promptly hit his head on the bar sitting up, despite the fact that he could easily slip out before, maybe scrape his horns on it as he did so. Standing, the minotaur was surprised to see that the gym looked smaller, only to find out that it was he who was bigger; after putting on a foot and a half in height and at least a hundred or so pounds of muscle so far, Mojalth was much larger than he had been before. For a moment, he was so awed by his height difference that he hadn't noticed his muscles, but that didn't take long to remedy.
Looking down, Mojalth realized how big he had gotten; his pecs were each as big as one of the exercise balls that were kept in the storage closet to the side of the gym. The bull couldn't help but bounce his pecs, bemused by their mass; each one was so thick that it was hard to see past them unless he leaned forward, and even then Mojalth's range of vision was limited. The minotaur had to rub a hand past his pecs to get an idea of what his abs looked like, as it was hard to get at a good angle to the mirror in order to see now that he had a fair deal of additional height. What he felt amazed him; he didn't only have an eight pack, but a perfectly cut and swollen one, one that felt like ridges of hard brick along his belly. He had become accustomed to his heavy body before, with a fat but firm gut that had stuck out a fair deal, and thick, soft-looking pecs, but now he had an almost godly body.
With a grin, Mojalth raised both of his arms and started flexing them at his sides, watching his biceps swell up like basketballs as he flexed them, too wide for anyone to wrap both hands around them. And even as he relaxed his arms, they stayed as large as they were; clearly the minotaur wasn't done growing yet! He hardly noticed, however, as he started stretching his arms, chest and back, working out the last of his soreness, testing out his thick legs whose massive thighs were fighting for space as he flexed, and just enjoying his new size. It was all so wonderful, being so gigantic! Mojalth could hardly believe it was real, hardly believe he wasn't dreaming.
But then a problem showed itself; he was still growing. The big bull found his pecs swelling thicker, and his arms were forced out to the sides slightly by his swollen torso and thick muscles. His legs were fighting for space even more, causing him to have to go slightly bowlegged. Mojalth's neck was even growing thicker with corded muscle, making it hard to bend his head much, and leaving him a bit worried; he had fantasized about being gigantic with muscle, almost to immobility, but he hadn't ever really wanted to be there! At this rate, his huge body would be too thick and unwieldy to move, let alone work out, and then what would be the point of all of his efforts? He couldn't show off if he couldn't move!
Fortunately, things ground to a halt after only a minute more of growth. The bull's height had stopped growing first, leaving him at exactly a foot and a half above his original height, but his weight and girth had increased immensely. He was massively heavy, but thanks to those enormous muscles he could carry his new body around with ease, albeit with some difficulty due to his limited range of motion as muscle met muscle. Mojalth had started to panic, thinking that he was going to be stuck like this, but he found that once the growth had stopped, and a few minutes had passed, that he was going to be alright. He was huge now, yes, but he was at least mobile and could figure out what to do from there.
"W-what happened...?" Mojalth blinked, and remembered Keno was still there, now looking up at his friend in awe. The foxtaur was fairly tall due to his species, maybe a few inches shorter than the minotaur before, but now Mojalth towered over him instead of looking slightly downwards.
"I uh... I don't know. Late growth spurt?" Mojalth offered sheepishly, unsure of what was going on. "I uh... think I definitely beat the record, though I don't know that this is what I expected to come out of it."
"I'll say! Can we even get your horns out the door, or do I need to find a hacksaw to trim them down and get you home?"
Mojalth grumbled, but Keno did have a point; getting out of the gym and getting home was going to be difficult, not to mention the discomfort of living with his larger frame. He'd have to figure that out as he went; right now, the minotaur figured that he could just go home, sleep off his confusion, and figure things out in the morning. In fact, that's all he wanted to do; though his larger muscles had made lifting a lot more easier, the ache was still there. It had just been muted by his excitement and the swelling of his muscles, but now the soreness was back full swing. It was back to that good soreness, though, instead of the painful agony he had been pushing himself through before.
The two of them managed to get Mojalth out the door with some difficulty, the minotaur ducking down and twisting his body to squeeze through the double-doors. Once he was through, Keno ran back to get his friend's gym bag and clothes, stuffing the latter into the bag before locking the weight room behind them. The two of them made their way out the front door similarly, suddenly glad that it was nighttime; it would be hard to explain a suddenly enormous bull making his way out of the gym, and certainly neither of them wanted to try. The trip home wasn't much better, as Mojalth was too large for a bus, and would draw too much attention even to the few late-night riders. Instead, they just walked, though they were wary of being seen for now.
Finally Mojalth was home, though he couldn't get in the front door easily. Instead he gave Keno his key, and the foxtaur went in and opened the sliding door in back for his friend, letting the minotaur squeeze in through there. Mojalth couldn't squeeze through the hallways easily to get back to his room, unfortunately, so he just tossed his bag onto the floor and crashed down on the sofa, the frame cracking beneath his new weight. The minotaur grimaced, but decided he'd deal with that in the morning as well; right now he was exhausted thanks to his workout. The night was humid, thankfully, so he didn't need any blankets or covering, and could settle to sleep in just what he was wearing.
Tomorrow was going to be a busy day.
"Mmrf... ten more minutes..." There was a ringing sound in the background, which Mojalth expected was his alarm clock. Bleary-eyed, the minotaur sat up on his couch, wondering why he was sleeping out in the living room instead of his in room. Maybe he had been tired from the night's workout before, and hadn't made it to the bedroom; that much was a possibility. It didn't explain how cramped he felt, laying on the couch however. His back felt stiff, as if he had been sleeping at an angle rather than with his back flat, and the bull reflexively reached to rub at the aching spot at his lower back. However, as he did so, his arm caught and couldn't quite reach, with something blocking it from bending far enough. Mojalth grumbled and looked down, wondering what was catching on him... and then seeing his swollen body, his huge muscles making his mobility a bit more limited, he remembered the events from the night before.
"Dang... I thought that was just a dream..."
But it wasn't a dream; Mojalth was as gigantic as ever, his horns just barely missing the ceiling as he sat up. The couch gave another defeated groan as the minotaur shifted, the frame cracking further beneath his increased weight. Getting to his feet, Mojalth started to try and figure out what to do next, heading for the kitchen, when he heard that ringing sound again. It definitely wasn't his alarm clock; in fact, it sounded like it was coming from the kitchen. Quickly he headed in, only to find his phone ringing off the hook; without thinking, the minotaur grabbed the phone and pressed the on button to answer. He was lucky; the hard plastic only bent slightly, rather than just breaking the phone. Mojath was going to have to be more careful with his strength, lest he break everything around him!
"Ah, good, your phone's still intact, Giganto. How're you feeling today?" Keno's voice chirruped on the other side of the phone, the foxtaur sounding rather chipper despite the unusual situation Mojalth was in.
"Big, but not as sore as expected. A little confused too; I don't know what to do now."
"Well I'll let you figure that out; right now, I have some news I wanted to share with you." Keno seemed excited, but the foxtaur liked teasing for attention. "First off, apparently Jarek's as much of a blowhard as ever. After last night, I went back to the gym and checked the weights on the rack he was using. Turns out, the zeroes on several of them were just drawn on with some kind of white tape. So he's a fraud, and you're still the best!" There was a pause while Keno let that sink in, and Mojalth could almost feel his friend's grin through the phone. Surprisingly, he wasn't elated, though; for some reason, the minotaur almost felt bad about how he had acted the night before, now that he knew the truth. It was unlike him to get so upset over something as simple as a weight lifting competition, and yet he had been snappish and rude even to his best friend. Keno deserved an apology later!
"Oh, and there's one more thing." Keno continued, still as quickly as before. "See, I thought your growth was a little fishy. Well okay, that was obvious, because people don't just grow like that! But it sounded fishy, and after doing some research, I found some articles about this prankster who's been going around the city, making people bigger. Most of them were balloons or fattened up; apparently you were lucky to get muscles. But either way, this 'Zee' guy sounds exactly like what happened to you. Did you run into anyone unusual or sinister-looking?"
It was all Mojalth could do to avoid a deadpan. "I doubt some hidden... I guess he'd be a prankster? Would be so obvious. This isn't a cartoon, it's real life. Turn off the TV once in a while, Keno."
"Well I don't know! I'm grasping at straws, but it's the only explanation I can think of, unless you were taking some serious steroids before we met up at the gym last night."
"Well, maybe it's plausible. I don't know, it just seems odd... hold on a sec." There was a ring at the door and the sound of scuttling paws, as if someone had just rang the doorbell and ran for it rather than waiting for him to answer. Wondering if it was some pranking kids (and being amused at the imaginary look on their faces at the big muscle-bound minotaur showing up at the door!), Mojalth went over and opened it gingerly, remembering the phone. Peeking out, there was no one in sight that would have left the message, but then again it wasn't easy to maneuver through the house at his size; Mojalth wouldn't have been surprised it the prankster had gotten away before he was halfway across the room.
"What's going on?" Came Keno's voice from the other end of the phone line.
"Nothing, just some kid ringing the doorbell and running... wait, what's this?" For on the doorstep was a bundle of letters, two separate envelopes tied together with twine. Mojalth picked it up carefully and brought it inside, frowning. "Someone left me some letters on the doorstep apparently... wonder why they didn't just stick around. Let's see..."
He opened the first letter without too much difficulty, and his eyebrows rose slightly as he started to read:
[I]To my minotaur friend,
You don't know me personally, but my name is Zee. I'm sure you've heard of my exploits through the city, making furs grow for my own amusement. In case you're wondering, yes, you were one of my many victims. But you're in luck; for once I decided to be nice, and give you a little gift instead. You see, I saw your troubles with that stupid dragon, and frankly he deserved to be set in his place. I don't have much tolerance for bullies, and this one was a fine example; if you don't believe me, check the last zero on some of the weights he was using. I'm sure your friend found it already, though; he was looking through the weights this morning.[/I]
Mojalth found himself concerned, and he frowned suddenly, a thought occurring to him. If Zee had been so "kind" as to cause him to grow, did that mean his lifting was illegitimate, made possible only by the prankster's ability to make him grow? If so, then even if Mojalth had his original record intact, it had made last night a complete waste, and made the minotaur no better than Jarek, who cheated in his own way in order to be the best. Granted, Mojalth hadn't intentionally tried to contact Zee, but at the same time, it was still a foul, and shouldn't count. The extra work that he had put in all night had been for naught!
But there was still more in the letter. [I]I'm sure you're getting it into your head that you did nothing last night, but you're wrong. I didn't trigger your growth until you started to lift the weight on your own; until it was at least off of the rack, I didn't do a thing. Even if you didn't do the reps, the work was all yours on your own, so don't mope, or else I won't be so nice when I come calling next time.
P.S. Check the second letter, I'm feeling particularly generous and contacted a friend.[/I]
Mojalth frowned some more, thinking that statement over. So the work had been his? Well that was impressive that he had been able to lift it off of the rack, but at the same time it meant that the entire set was defaulted due to unnatural resources improving his workout. Still, despite that, he didn't feel completely bad either. The minotaur thought on that for a moment, wondering about this sudden shift in feelings. The night before, he would have gone somewhere between furious and depressed at knowing all his work had been for naught, yet when he thought about it now, Mojalth found himself completely unfazed, as if it meant nothing to him.
And it really did mean nothing to him, he realized on reflection. Last night he had been caught up in the heat of his workout, had gotten so tangled in the competition of out-lifting Jarek that he hadn't been able to really find enjoyment or satisfaction in his workout. It wasn't for the joy of lifting and becoming stronger that Mojalth had attempted his lift; instead, it was just to prove Jarek the loser, which would have been a hollow victory in the end. The minotaur found himself smiling as he came to this realization, suddenly feeling a lot better. It didn't matter if he won or lost, or even why; it was the joy of getting bigger, stronger, and better that made him want to continue working out and pushing himself to the limit. That's what he really wanted to compete for.
That done, Mojalth went to look at the second envelope. The note at the end of the first letter made the second seem important, and indeed there was an official seal on front... from the World Records headquarters? Intrigued, the minotaur read through the short letter.
This is the World Records Center, writing to inform you that your submission to the book has been noted, and will indeed be recorded. You have set the world record for a single deadlift at your weight class, and are duly noted as a result. Your notarized witness form by a friend of ours has passed the test, and you will be included in our next publications. Congratulations on your achievement, Mojalth, and keep up the good work![/I]
The minotaur grinned from ear to ear, and he finally picked up the phone again, where an impatient Keno was waiting for him to finish the letters. "Keno, you better come over here... I have something I want to show you..."
This is an older commission for Mojalth from FA for his minotaur character, whom he wanted to go through a phase of muscle growth, a topic I don't have a ton of experience in. Never daunted however, I kept through it, and created the piece you see here.
The story is about a minotaur named Mojalth who is constantly competing with a rival, a dragon named Jarek, over their ability to lift weights at the gym. However, when Jarek pulls ahead by an enormous margin out of the blue, leaving Mojalth stunned and unsure how to react. The minotaur, however, decides that he won't just leave it at that...