Fight Night '24 & KODM3 || Promo Thread

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Promo deadlines:

Sunday 3rd March at 23:59PM Pacific.
Monday 4th March at 03:00AM Eastern.
Monday 4th March at 08:00AM UK.
Monday 4th March at 19:00PM Melbourne.

No extensions.

GLHF.
 
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feat. The Rock Show


Chapter 1






“Randy…”



“Randy?”



“Randy, where are you?”

Well, he’s in a moderately sized, modestly decorated office. The walls are a light shade of pink, the couch is light gray, the carpet is a darker shade. Sunlight crashes through the open shades and reflects off the mirrored top of the coffee table. There are of course other decorations strewn about - photo frames filled with certificates of completion, an ancient looking vase, a dog statue - but that’s not what the question meant.

“Are you even there?”

Randy sits cross legged on the aforementioned couch, staring down at his phone and paying no attention to his surroundings.

“Where are you?”

This question barely registers to him as he continues swiping away on his phone. Hard to tell from this angle if it’s the right to left swipes of the dating scene or the up and down of flipping through memes, but it’s clear that his mind is somewhere else at the moment.

When are you?”

This one draws his attention - and why wouldn’t it? The man spent days (or minutes if you happened to be staring at that river at the right time) barreling through time, which definitely isn’t possible. Or, wasn’t? See, that’s where it gets confusing for him. Not only did he accidentally do something completely unheard of, but all it did was create more questions and confusion.

Questions about his own destiny.

Questions about his apparently intertwined history with Chris Crowe (and his family, I guess).

Just more and more questions.

He looks up from his phone and makes eye contact with her, Doctor Jill he calls her, though he’s not sure she’s actually a doctor. Call it a term of endearment.

“There you are.”


He’s making eye contact with her, but he’s still not there. His eyes are glazed over, clearly still focused on something else. It could be any number of things - a lot has changed for him lately. The time travel thing. The trident. Winning the Buddy Bowl. The upcoming Tag Title shot. “Donny” Toner coming back into his life. It’s a lot, all over the place, all at the same time.

“Randy, we’ve been through this before. I can’t help you if you don’t work with me. You scheduled this appointment, remember? No one is forcing you to be here…”

He did schedule it, though he can’t remember why. Something has been nagging at him, though he hasn’t been able to put a finger on what. It’s not the time thing. a Toner wouldn’t cause this reaction (in fact it’s much more likely THAT would be a blind rage after everything they went through together). It’s not the weight of another Tag Title match.

Honestly, he’s not really sure why he even came today. He doesn’t feel like talking.

“See Randy, this is what you do. You always do this. You make an appointment, you come in here, you diddle on your phone a bit, and you leave, without ever saying a word. You leave, I get paid anyway… why do you do this? You just sit there, acting like a…”

Don’t say it, doc.

“...like a…”

Please don’t press this button.

“...acting like a zombie.”

Oh shit, she said it. He snaps back to reality. His eyes are suddenly clear and lucid.

“So that’s it then, huh?”

He exhales deeply, but still doesn’t say a word.

“Is that what you want to talk about then?”

Still nothing. He crosses his arms and adjusts his position on the couch.

“Should we take it back to the beginning?”



Chapter 2




“So tell me then. You guys were partners for a long time - how did you do it?”

The scene shifts to a beat-up room, likely a garage from the looks of it, that has definitely seen better days. There are paint cans in one corner, empty beer cans in another. A wooden ladder hangs on the rear wall.

Chris Crowe sits on an upside-down bucket, guitar in his hand. This is the “magical” guitar that, the last time he played it, reached across time and space to help Randy uncover the hiding place of the Trident that brought him back to this time.

Across from him on a beat-up lawn chair sits Randy’s oldest friend, Chris Palmer. The two have been fiddling with the guitar for a while to see if they could figure out how to use it in any way OTHER than a guitar. So far? No luck. They’ve played “Freebird” six ways from Sunday, but that’s it. No time travel, no interdimensional connections as best they can tell, nothing.

“What do you mean?”

“Well, you know, he doesn’t seem to be the most level headed guy. Never seem to know if he’s coming or going. On top of that, me and Tommy have been having issues for weeks with Black and that other Chris P., and even after saying he’d be there if I needed him, it took him until JUST THIS PAST WEEK to show up and have my back.”


The original Chris P. nods along in agreement.

“So, was he there to protect his Tag Title shot, or was he there for me? You know what I mean?”

Palmer sighs.

“Yeah, I don’t really have answers for you on that one. Can’t it be both?”

Crowe is skeptical.

“He’s kind of always been that way. For all of the success he’s had with me, Ayla, Danny… there’s only been one person who could ever really rein him in.”

“...and I’m not him.”

“No one is, man. He’s one of a kind. The two of them had some otherworldly connection. Don’t take it personally...


…it’s a lot easier that way.”

Crowe strums a few notes on the guitar. Nothing happens beyond a sick riff breaking awkward silence.

“So my advice? Worry about yourself. Ignore his ego-centric, bird-brained shit, and get yourself ready. Don’t worry about any of that shit, because one way or the other, he’ll have himself ready when the bell rings. You need to be ready too. That’s what matters, isn’t it?”

Crowe nods with agreement. His mind wanders back to Switzerland in 2016. Zero chance Randy would remember it, but he and Randy actually crossed paths. That was a very different Randy than the one he teams with on Fight Night. He absent-mindedly strums on the guitar while lost in thought, and then something magical happens: a blue light starts to emanate from its end.

“Wait, did you see that?”

“See what?”

“That… that glow!”


Crowe looks to the guitar but doesn’t see anything.

“Do it again! Whatever you did, do it again!”

Crowe does his best to strum the same strings and play the same notes in the same order that he did a few moments ago, but nothing happens.

“It’s not working!”

“Here, let me try!”


Palmer takes the guitar and does the same, but also to no avail.

“Shit!”



“Shit…”

The two share a dejected but hopeful glance.

“I hope we didn’t just blow up some temple or cause a flood or something…”



Chapter 3







“So then, what’s up? What’s going on?”

“I guess I’m feeling a bit… lost? Ironic, I know, since I was just literally lost in time… but, you know, mentally lost.”

“How so?”


“It’s no secret that I was a fuckin’ mess before Golden Rock. I mean, I was all over the place. Sporadic. Everyone knows that… but then teaming with Devin unlocked something in me. I became the person that I wanted to be when I first got into this business. The championships were cool and all, but I mean who I really was.”

“Are you not still that person?”

“Right now? No. I haven’t been for a while. Ever since I Remixed him and tried to snap him out of that solip- whatever trance he was in… ever since then, I’ve felt myself slowly unraveling... spiraling… reaching but there’s nothing to grab on to, if that makes any sense?”

“It does.”

“So then, I guess, I’m afraid of what happens if I keep going down. I don’t want to become that person again doc’. Ever since that first match together, singing to the crowd after the win… that changed me. I’m afraid that if I keep going down, that I’m not going to get out again. Because, like it or not, Devin Golden’s not walking through that door to lift my ass up again.”

“He’s not.”

“...and then if you add in all of this ‘time and space’ mumbo jumbo, there’s a lot on my plate right now, and I don’t know how to handle it.”

“Well, let me ask you this question. You specifically mentioned the Remix to Golden as the moment that you felt yourself start to slip. But, you also noted that you did it to help him out of the state he was stuck in. Is that correct?”

“Right. I wanted the titles, but honestly, I wanted our friendship more.”

“Let’s rewind that back then. When did you start to question your friendship?”

“Probably about the time he started to think I was a dream. Or whatever the fuck he was thinking?”

“So, long before the Remix.”

“I guess so. More than a few months.”

“Would you say that when he became - confused - he became less of a mentor to you?”

“Well, sure. Hard to mentor someone when you don’t believe they exist, isn’t it?”

“It seems to me that there was a functional shift in your relationship at that point. He was your mentor, but then things changed and all of the sudden, you were the one helping him. I’d say that you were the one holding it all together.”

“...”

“...and one step further. Sure, kicking him in the face might make him realize that you’re very real, but it also could be seen as a moment of unburdening, right?”

“I suppose.”

“I would argue that you entered the relationship as the one who needed guidance, and by the end, you were the one guiding the ship.”

“The student became the master…”

“Not my words, but if that’s how you want to phrase it, then alright.”

“So, then the spiraling feeling after?”

“It could be as simple as a fear of change. We can unpack that, for sure, but I think it’s more important that we stay on track. You were like a newborn walking for the first time without holding someone’s hand. It takes some getting used to. There’s some anxiety attached to that for sure. I’d worry about you if you didn’t feel that way.”

“What do I do with that? We lost the titles, we split, I tried to kill Krash but apparently failed, jumped through time, came back… and you’re saying that was all me?”

“I’m absolutely not saying that. Are you?”

“Yes? I mean, no?”


A longer pause than you’d expect.

“Chris…”

“From what you’ve told me, there’s no way you’d even be sitting here with me if it hadn’t been for him.”

“I mean, he did do the thing that led directly to me finding the trident, which is the thing that literally brought me back, so I’d say that’s accurate.”

“I’d wager to guess that these emotions are pushing through now because of your big match coming up.”

“With Chris, right.”

“If I can go a step further, I’d wager to guess that you’re afraid that you’re not as good of a partner to him as Devin was to you…”

“Oh boy…”

“Should we take that mask off?”

“Do we have to?”




Chapter 4




“How the fuck did that happen?”

“Man, I don’t know!”

Chris Crowe and Chris Palmer are still sitting in the shitty garage and trying to figure out what made the guitar start to glow a short time ago. Between them they have played basically every common riff known to man, and nothing has happened.

Enter Sandman? Exit stage left.

Back in Black? More like Fade to Black.

Smoke on the Water? Idiots in the Garage.

Nothing is working. They’re on the verge of giving up.

“So, let’s recap, what were we doing?”

“I was mindlessly strumming. That’s it.”

“Mindlessly? Why?”

“I don’t know, I was deep in thought.”

“Okay, maybe that’s the trick. Maybe we have to think really hard about something while we do it… let me try.”


Palmer does just that, focusing on dinner as he plays.

“Cheeseburger… cheeseburger… cheeseburger…”

Nothing.

“Cheeseburger? What, were you hoping a fuckin’ burger would just appear?”

“You never know…”


And then.

“Maybe it just doesn’t like food? Or doesn’t know modern food? The thing is likely thousands of years old, after all.”

“I doubt it’s that. No, Randy said he thought really hard about getting back here when he used the trident in the future. Is it a place? Or a time?”


Palmer tries again.

“Disney Land… Disney Land… Disney Land…”

Still nothing.

“Damn, I could really go for one of those turkey legs…”

“Are you just… hungry?"


Palmer shrugs knowingly.

“Alright… let me try this… I’m going to think about an hour ago, right when we sat down. Maybe you have to, like, visualize the exact moment or something…”

He does this. Again, nothing happens.

“Damnit! This doesn’t make any sense. How the hell did it work one minute and won’t work again?”

“We’re obviously missing something…”


Crowe takes the guitar back and lays it across his lap.

“When it happened, I was recalling a specific memory. A specific memory with feelings and emotions attached. Maybe that’s it? Like… strong emotions or something?”

He brushes his hair from his face and lifts the guitar. He thinks for a second, and then again plucks some strings.

“Hey, what are you thinking of?”

Crowe continues playing, not responding to Palmer, and focusing all of his attention on some emotional memory.

“Chris?”

Suddenly a tealish blue light starts to emanate from the tip of the guitar. It grows bigger and brighter until the room is completely engulfed in the light.



Chapter 5







“So, let’s rip it off. I’m going to be blunt here. For most of Golden Rock’s time together, you were the young one. You were the one learning the ropes, so to speak. You learned from Devin, and eventually you were taking the lead, and it didn’t end well. Correct?”

He nods.

“Is it possible that what you’re feeling is fear?”

“Fear?”

“I don’t know… fear of failure? Fear that you won’t be as good for Chris as Devin was for you? Fear that even though you walked away from Golden Rock as a grown man, you didn’t actually learn anything, and that teaming with someone new… someone who is currently where you were before… will prove that? Fear that maybe you’re a fraud?”

“Ouch, doc.”

“I’m not saying you’re a fraud Randy, I’m suggesting that deep down you feel like you are.”


He doesn’t say anything for a long, long moment.

“I guess you could be on to something…”

He stands up in front of the couch.

“That’s not something new, you know. I’ve always had that nagging feeling in my gut that I was in over my head. That I didn’t belong. Even as World Champion - I had just beaten Danny Toner and Chris Kennedy at the same time… and I had to beat four other guys just to get into that match. I sure as shit earned it, but the whole time, all I could think was… this is an illusion. The bottom is going to drop out any day now. I don’t belong here!”

He starts pacing in the office.

“Even as Tag Champions with Devin, even though he constantly pushed me into the limelight, I always felt like I belonged in the shadows. Sure, I enjoyed the success and the glory and all that, but… I never felt like I truly deserved it.”

“You did.”


“I mean, I know that. But knowing it and believing it are two different things, aren’t they? So yeah, how can I push Chris into the limelight… how can I help him the same way that Devin helped me, when I don’t fully believe that I belong there in the first place? You hit the nail on the head doc. That’s the million-dollar question.”

He stops and stares out the window for a minute.

“So, what’s the answer?”

She laughs.

“You know I can’t tell you that. You need to figure it out for yourself.”


He nods.

“Thanks again doc. This was helpful. I know what I need to do now.”

“What are you going to do?”


“Same thing I always do. Get myself together and…”

znt5wAO.gif


Epilogue




After leaving his session, Randy rushes back to the garage where Chris and Chris have been playing with the guitar. He feels lighter; relieved. He’s finally cracked the code and can’t wait to share his breakthrough with Chris Crowe. He bursts through the door like the Kool-Aid Man.

“Chris! I figured it out! Chris!”

“I’m here Randy! What’s up?”

“Oh, sorry, I meant Crowe.”


Palmer has a guilty look on his face.

“Where is he?”

Palmer hesitates.

“Well, uh, you see… we were playing the guitar and… hey… the good news is, we figured out how it works!”

“That’s awesome! This unlocks a lot of adventures for us!”

“Yeah… about that…”

“So then where is Crowe?”

“Uh… I... lost him…”


Randy’s jaw hits the floor.

“YOU LOST HIM?!”

Chris takes a half step back.

“I mean he thought really hard about something, strummed, and then a whirlwind showed up and sucked him right up. He dropped the guitar on the way through, and I have no idea where he went. He's gone - and I don't think he'll be back any time soon. Gone gone. Not like 'ha ha this is a joke' gone... more like 'he'll no longer be able to participate at Fight Night' levels of gone.”

“...”

“...”

“So, obviously we need to figure this out and get him back… but… also, what do I do now? I need a partner for this match…”

“That’s your firs- wait, never mind. I mean you’ll just call him, right?”

“I mean I could… fifty-fifty whether he’d even answer at this point, but…”


The wheels in his head are turning.

“I’ve got a better idea… and you’re going to love it!”

Randy is confident. Palmer is not. Toners everywhere shake in their boots. Still, no one knows who Kay Jenny even is.

The cursed match shall be put out of its misery. This should be fun.
 

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8th April 2023
An Undisclosed Location, USA
King of the Deathmatch 2



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The fans gasped and winced as Jeffry Mason stabbed a fork (A FUCKING FORK!) into the deep gash on Trixie’s forehead, which had been caused by Trixie having had a light tube smashed over her head. Trixie screamed in sheer agony as the fork dug deep into the cut on her head, which felt as though it was scraping bone off her skull, all the while Jeffry had donned a sickening smile as he called for Trixie to quit, and boy, she wanted to… she really did.

As the fork dug ever deeper into her skull, and as Trixie’s screams and tears of anguish further fed the blood-lust of the maniacal monster that she had been trapped in this ring with, almost every fibre of her being told her to just give it up. She had had glass smashed over her head. Steel chairs had been bounced off her skull. She had been thrown into steel walls. Slammed into a sea of thumbtacks… and for what? Some stupid crown? A shiny gold belt? Hell, if she managed to survive this fight, and by some miracle she were to actually win, then she would have to go through this torture all over again in the semi-finals, and then the finals. It was hopeless… Trixie knew that she could not withstand anymore of this.

The pain, both physical and mental, had become too much… But, before she could plead for mercy, Jeffry Mason had removed the fork from her skull and slammed Trixie’s face into the mat… she didn’t even feel her head bounce off the canvas. That seemed inconsequential next to everything else that she had gone through in this savage war of attrition.

As she laid face down, blood spilling onto the mat from the gaping hole in her forehead, with several tens of thumbtacks stuck in her pale, ravaged flesh, Trixie had been granted a brief respite from the violent machinations of a true master in the art of inflicting pain, and in that moment, she saw an opportunity to figuratively wave the white flag of surrender. This was her chance to escape any further punishment, and all she had to do was roll over and beg the referee to stop the match. It would be humiliating, but it would at least bring this whole thing to an end…

… but, despite every fibre of her being begging her to quit, something deep inside Trixie had taken hold of her ravaged body, and much to the amazement of everyone, Jeffry and Trixie herself included, she didn’t call it quits… instead, she attempted to drag herself off the floor. Trixie internally begged her body to stay down, but for whatever reason, it would not listen. The small crowd of 300 cheered their encouragement as Trixie’s body rose from the blood-covered canvas… but this wasn’t a Rocky movie.

Jeffry, having expected Trixie to be akin to a walk in the park next to most other Deathmatches that he had been a part of, had come to respect Trixie during this gruesome conflict. She had given him a far tougher fight than he had expected, and, aware of the fact that in order to win this tournament, he needed to compete and win two more Deathmatches after this, he knew that he could not afford to draw this out any longer… and so, as Trixie eventually managed to lift herself onto her knees, the “Savior of Death” had armed himself with a steel chair and swung with murderous intent, driving the chair into Trixie’s skull with an impact that sounded like cannon fire, and Trixie’s body fell lifelessly onto the canvas. Trixie didn’t even feel it. Her brain had been completely shut off, and for a small moment, there was nothing. She had been freed from the immense pain and torment that Jeffry Mason and this god-forsaken tournament had put her through.

Knowing that he had finished the job, Jeffry Mason rolled Trixie’s lifeless body over and went for the cover. He hooked her far leg, looking to end this match here and now…

One…

Two…

From within the empty void of unconsciousness, a voice bellowed and sent shockwaves through Trixie’s entire being…

“NO!” The voice exclaimed with a furious defiance, and a power that seemed to jolt Trixie’s body back to life, as…

THRE - NO!

TRIXIE KICKED OUT!

The crowd erupted in cheer at Trixie’s incredible resilience, and the look of complete shock and frustration on Jeffry Mason’s face told the story perfectly… Trixie was done. She was out cold… How on earth did she kick out?… It took a moment for Trixie to realise what had happened too. As she stared up into the desert sky, with the sound of 300 rabid fans cheering and chanting her name, she slowly realised that she was still in the match.

“No, no, no, no, no, no, no…” Trixie whimpered internally, with her body just lying motionless on the ground, unable to move. “I can’t take anymo-”

“STOP!” A voice called from within Trixie’s mind… it was Trixie’s voice, though she didn’t recognise it. “GET UP AND FIGHT!”

As Jeffry Mason lifted Trixie’s lifeless body off the canvas, looking to end this once and for all, Trixie felt her body fill with a power that she hadn’t felt before. She had somehow been given the strength she needed to fight back, and yet, with every fibre of her being, Trixie forced herself to remain motionless.

“NO! WHAT ARE YOU DOING!? FIGHT BACK!” The voice demanded furiously, determined to win…

… but Trixie refused.

“I can’t take it anymore!” Trixie responded internally, giving in to her fears.

Jeffry lifts Trixie’s body onto his shoulders and walks her over to the sea of thumbtacks, and Trixie doesn’t even try to resist.

“YOU FUCKING COWARD, FIGHT BACK!” The voice screams, and Trixie feels another surge of power rush through her body as the voice attempts to will it back into action, but Trixie remains steadfast in her determination to surrender.

“No…” Trixie responded with a great deal of shame. “I’m done.”

…and with that, Jeffry Mason plants Trixie onto the thumb tacks with a devastating Liger Bomb, and Trixie is sent back into unconsciousness.

One…

Two…

“I’ll never forgive you for this, you weak, stupid, scared little girl.” The voice echoes through Trixie’s unconscious mind, filled with a seething venom. “I hate you.”

THREE!







Trixie Bordeaux is…
z9ND9S_uCIY5FpBtiskcqP4_SIgGfCBXDnXmEe8lglw54Bez6OPsRKXkK2pyylxx5Yr-6SM8W0qGSvEBo6ypDfJru0jZyWGfSJ4-PXXZ-b9ydHIsnWivtJEj_RdLHGTK8U56ThNPAAZk75yj-cNbdcE

and Lord Knows What’s Left.


1st March 2024
Hotel New Otani, Tokyo


mWlW99iHexe-K5swM1LNoQIGMenNa3JZS6OGePJGthgYlihVrH3yglJemYJF4PjX-nhKyBBt7ANKZvZRTI1Zml-Czk4nBygugjnNWuRnc1qqwHEsZQn_eAn58c6rxHLsi-khoj392IujoHLAauGCz5c

Trixie watched on in disgust as Jeffry Mason unceremoniously discarded Trixie’s ravaged, unconscious body to the outside of the ring as his music hit. This disgust was aimed more so at herself than Jeffry, though Trixie still hated “The Savior of Death’s” guts, despite having managed to avenge her defeat to Jeffry in her most recent foray in the vicious world of Deathmatch wrestling.

As the referee raised Jeffry’s hand in victory, the camera momentarily cuts to show Trixie, lying in a heap on the outside and slowly beginning to stir, as a team of medics checked on her. Seeing this, and knowing full well that she could have been the one standing in the ring with her hand raised in victory, if she only had the strength to overcome her intense fear and not look for the quick and easy way out, Trixie slammed her laptop shut.

A lot had changed in the eleven months since Trixie’s maiden voyage into the King of the Deathmatch tournament. She had become an integral part of one of the FWA’s premier factions, The Coven, and had become an FWA Trios Champion alongside Blair and Celestia Ravenwood, titles that they have held onto for well over 200 days, and counting. On top of that, she had proven herself a formidable Deathmatch competitor, with big wins against her arch rival Reagan Cole, and also her aforementioned victory over the man that had ended her KODM run last year, Jeffry Mason… but, despite these impressive accomplishments, Trixie couldn’t bring herself to look back on 2023 as a success.

For all of Trixie’s successes in the 14 months since her FWA debut, she couldn’t help but feel as though she underachieved. She had failed to win the KODM tournament. Failed to win the Carnal Contendership, or even earn a spot in the Golden Opportunity match. Failed to capture the FWA TV Championship. Failed to win the Buddy Bowl tournament with Aaron Harrows. And, most recently, she had failed in her bid to become #1 Contender for the FWA World Championship in a 5-Person match… that is a lot of failure.

Each and every one of these setbacks have played on repeat in Trixie’s mind, serving as constant reminders that, on her own, she hadn’t really accomplished a damn thing… and she felt a burning desire to change that. It was this desire - the desire to prove to the FWA, its fans, its leadership, its roster of incredible professional wrestlers, and most importantly, to herself, that she CAN succeed on her own - that led her to once again, for the second year running, put her name down for the single most brutal, most destructive, most terrifying tournament in the history of professional wrestling, the King of the Deathmatch tournament… and this time, Trixie would win the WHOLE DAMN THING!

… Well, that’s what she had been attempting to convince herself of from the moment she had signed up to enter the tournament, at least.

The truth was, despite all of Trixie’s desire and motivation to prove herself, deep down, she was still just a scared little girl… and this little girl would not shut the fuck up.

“But, last year I wasn't even tough enough to get past the second round! There’s NO WAY I’m gonna be able to go all the way this year!” The Little Girl told Trixie, her voice filled with horror as she imagined all the pain and torture that was heading her way in but a couple of weeks time.

“I’LL BE FINE!” Trixie barked furiously, trying desperately to convince the negative little voice inside her mind that they could go all the way. “I’m WAY BETTER than I was last year! Heck, I kicked Jeffry Mason’s butt a couple months ago! And if we end up fighting him in the tournament again this year, I’ll kick his butt again!”

“Yeah, but that was just one match! I gotta win loads of these Deathmatches one after the other to win this tournament! So, even if I do win once, then I have to do it again, and again, and again… it’s just TOO HARD!” The Little Girl responded, trying her hardest to talk Trixie out of competing in this violent contest. “I should just ask that Mr. Russnow guy to take us out of the whole thing, because if we don’t, then I’m gonna wind up dead!”

Annoyingly, the scared Little Girl that makes up an enormous portion of Trixie’s mind did have a point… despite Trixie’s success under Deathmatch rules against Reagan Cole and Jeffry Mason, they were but single, one off matches, and she had weeks to recover from those gruelling battles before having to step into the ring for another match. In the KODM, she would have to win 4 Deathmatches in ONE DAY to win the whole thing! Nevertheless, there was no way in hell that Trixie was going to talk herself into backing out now.

“I can’t back out now! All the people who’re gonna be fighting in the tournament have already been announced! If I back out now, then the whole world will see me for the scaredy cat I am!”

“BEING A SCAREDY CAT IS BETTER THAN BEING DEAD!” The Little Girl snapped, baffled at Trixie’s stupidity.

“IS IT!?” Trixie clapped back, furious at the thoughts of chickening out that plagued her mind. “So everytime an evil bully called me names and told me how weird and stupid I was, or they beat me up and spitted on me, and made me feel like I was a worthless piece of shit, and I DID NOTHING but sit there and cry and wish I was someone else, all because I was a FUCKING COWARD! That was better than being dead, was it!? WAS IT!?”

The voice of the Little Girl inside Trixie’s mind grew quiet, shell-shocked as all of Trixie’s built up rage bubbled to the surface.

“EXACTLY. Because I remember coming home from school and wishing I was dead all the fucking time… if only I had the guts to do to those big meanies what I always dreamed of back then, they woulda never picked on me again. Heck, they wouldn’t have picked on anyone ever again, but I was too much of a wimp… but not anymore. I’m done being a coward.”





“Well, I’m gonna die.”

Hearing the incessantly negative Little Girl’s voice once more, after wishing so badly that she had finally been able to talk herself into believing, Trixie slammed her fist onto the soft mattress below her and growled in anger and frustration.

“... just go away, please.” Trixie asked, sounding entirely done with this whole interaction…

… and for a moment, it looked as though the Little Girl did as Trixie asked, and so Trixie closed her eyes and savoured the tranquillity.



“I wonder if they have Jolly Ranchers in Heaven?”

Trixie took a deep, fed up sigh. She needed to shut herself up. Maybe one of her Coven friends had some of that Jolly Rancher juice on hand? That always helped Trixie switch off.

Taking that as a fantastic idea, Trixie got up out of her bed and headed for the door, hoping beyond hope that one of her friends could help her shut this negative voice off, at least for a little while.









Having Trixie the rooms of Blair, Celestia and Kleio respectively, Trixie had no success.

“They must’ve gone shopping.” Trixie thought to herself as she walked down the hallway towards the room of the eldest member of the FWA’s resident Coven of witches and wannabe witches.

Knock Knock Knock

“Grammy Ethel? It’s Trixie… you in?” Trixie called out, hoping Ethel’s withered voice would call back to her… but it didn’t.

Trixie’s shoulders slumped in defeat as she turned around, headed back to her room, until she heard Ethel’s door open. Trixie turned around excitedly, and her eyes lit up when she saw Grandma Ethel standing in the doorway, looking as though she had just been disturbed from one of her many daily naps.

“What is it, deary?” Ethel said, sounding groggy as she wiped her eyes, before putting her glasses back on and looking up at the lanky young woman who stood before her.

“Um, I was wondering if you had anything to help make my brain stop annoying me for a little bit? Maybe some Jolly Rancher juice like how Celestia makes it?” Trixie asked hopefully.

Ethel rolled her eyes, before gesturing for Trixie to enter her room. Trixie happily obliged, and Ethel ushered her in, before closing the door behind them.


S7n8pDgoYmvEHa5dDnCrrleBRh9pWv0JCB2L8ogD01zBE25U8PeZ9jpczhHPs9WAFNPteoJPaBp_PEh9fhABAbnvu0GPY0JC70wsQ3c_lj5oYx8FMXlHwryJ0j5WjF_OW4OfOIMtlG1q0elq6NT4QXU

Trixie’s jaw dropped when she saw how much better Ethel’s room was in comparison to hers. Trixie’s room was tiny by comparison, and this kind of outraged Trixie. How come Ethel was getting the good rooms and Trixie wasn’t? Trixie decided not to voice her jealousy allowed, as she very much needed Ethel’s help, and she thought that complaining at how good Ethel got it would probably earn Trixie getting kicked out, so she kept quiet.

“So, what’s troubling you so, deary?” Ethel asked as she sat on the sofa in the corner of her room.

Trixie walked over and plonked herself on the corner of the bed, facing Ethel, before explaining herself.

“Well…” Trixie fidgeted with her long blonde hair as she tried to think of how to explain her problem. “All my life, no matter what I do, I’ve always had this stupid voice in my head telling me how bad I did, or how I’m gonna fail this and get my butt kicked at that. Even when I do something good, like when Me, Blair and Celery won those shiny belt-buckles, the voice was telling me how I only won them because Blair and Celery helped me, and without The Coven, I wouldn’t win anything. It’s just… it’s all the time.”
Ethel, despite her grogginess, having seemingly only just woke up, listened intently as Trixie explained her troubles.

“And ever since I stood in the square and told everyone in the whole world that I was gonna fight in the Death tournament again, and that I was gonna win the whole thingy, the voice has been getting louder and louder. It keeps telling me how I’m gonna die this time, and that I should just ask Mr. Russnow to take me out of the tournament… just every time I start to think I’m doing good, and I start to believe in myself, this stupid voice just tells me how useless I am.” Trixie looked completely worn out as she told her story, having spent her entire life dealing with this constant negative voice inside her head. “I just… I can’t take it anymore. I just want it to stop… I NEED it to stop.”

Ethel nodded, understanding what Trixie is going through. Ethel had been there when Trixie had a panic attack after finding out that she would be competing against Cyrus Truth and Gabrielle Montgomery, among others, for a shot at the FWA World Championship. Trixie had broken down and bolted to her bedroom, attempting to run away and hide as opposed to taking the chance to fight for the biggest opportunity of her life. Celestia had managed to talk her down then, but that moment stuck with Ethel.

“Well, it sounds like you need something a lot stronger than Jolly Rancher juice for that, deary.” Ethel responded to Trixie’s plea for help with a warm smile.

Trixie’s ears perked up, and her hopes that Ethel could help her skyrocketed as she saw the smile etched on the elder witch’s face.

“So, you can help me turn the voice off?” Trixie asked hopefully.

“I cannot just switch this voice off, but…” Ethel thought, mulling through her idea in her head, before she explained it to Trixie. “This voice seems to hold a great deal of power over you. It can come and go seemingly at will, and you have no way of controlling it. Its words cut deep, because they come from within… many people suffer with voices of this ilk.”

“So what CAN you do?” Trixie asked, her hopes dwindling slightly as Ethel spoke to the power this voice had over Trixie.

“I can send you to where the voice lives. You could speak to the voice in person, as an equal. I could give you the chance to see this voice for yourself. Maybe, if you could see this voice and speak to it like you and I speak now, then maybe you two could come to some sort of an understanding?”

Trixie can’t seem to comprehend what Ethel is saying. How on earth could Trixie meet with the voice in her head, in person?

“I-I don’t get it… how can I meet up with the voice, when the voice is inside me?” Trixie asked, flabbergasted.

“I can send your consciousness deep within the annals of your mind, to the place where this voice resides. I would be like… a lucid dream. You would be able to move around and touch the things around you, and the voice would take the shape of a person much like yourself. You could have a one-on-one conversation with this voice, as though it were a friend.” Ethel explained as simply as she could.

Trixie seemed to understand it a little better now, nodding as Ethel explained.

“Would you like to give it a try?”

So potent was her desperation to find some common ground with this voice, and to stop it from constantly bombarding her with doubts and anxiety in any and everything that Trixie does, or attempts to do, Trixie doesn’t hesitate…

“Okay… let’s do it.” Trixie said, nodding her agreement, before gulping anxiously.

Ethel smiled, and lifted herself up from the sofa with a great deal of effort.

“Okay, so let’s lie you down on the bed…”

Trixie crawled to the top of the bed, and plonked her head onto the pillow, getting herself nice and comfortable.

“Good girl… Now, close your eyes.”

Trixie closed her eyes as ordered.

“Now, from here, all I need you to do is to trust me. Can you do that for me, deary?”

“I trust you with my life, Grammy. I know you wouldn’t do anything to hurt me.” Trixie said, reassuring her surrogate Grandmother of her unwavering trust in her.

Ethel smiled, looking honoured that Trixie would trust her so fully.

“Thank you… that really means a lot to this blithering old lady.” Ethel said, moved by Trixie’s words. “Anyway… are you ready?”

“I’m ready.” Trixie said, assured that all would go according to Ethel’s plan.

Acknowledging Trixie’s answer, the elder witch of The Coven placed her hand on Trixie’s forehead and closed her eyes as she summoned up her immense power. After a brief moment of silence, Trixie’s mind had been jolted by what felt like a bolt of lightning, which sent her spiralling inside her own mind and imagination, as she received brief but jarring flashbacks of past memories both good and bad, and brief glimpses into long since forgotten dreams.

As she tumbled, she saw visions of herself with a thorny crown upon her head, sat on a throne, and a championship title embroiled with a large, blood red ❌ at its centre, wrapped around her waist. Was this just another forgotten dream? Or had Grandma Ethel gifted Trixie a glimpse into her future? One where she would ascend to the throne of “Queen of the Deathmatch”, and become the FWA X Champion?

Just as the question entered Trixie’s mind, the vision had passed, and had been replaced with far more terrifying scenes. Embroiled in a brutal Deathmatch with a faceless demon, Trixie looked to have been beaten from pillar to post as she sat, completely helpless as she had been handcuffed to the top rope, all the while the demon absolutely ravaged Trixie’s flesh as it unleash a vicious assault with a bull rope, with Trixie’s screams of pain only serving to motivate the faceless demon to strike her even harder. All of the fear and apprehension that had been embodied in Trixie’s mind by the Little Girl flooded Trixie’s mind. Just this mere sample of what could possibly await her in the King of the Deathmatch tournament had sent Trixie into a spiral of extreme trepidation, as even though the scene had passed her by as she fell deeper into the void of her subconscious, the image of her agonised expression as the rope crashed against her abdomen, causing welts and incredible pain… well, that still image would not go away. It followed her into the void, as Ethel navigated Trixie towards her destination.

As she passed by several other memories and potential glimpses into possible futures, Trixie finally saw an end to the bottomless void, as a bright beam of light blared through a rectangular hole below her, and moments later, she fell into the light, until…

SLAM!

Trixie crashed onto the hard wooden floor in a heap, as a door slammed shut behind her. Clutching her shoulder in pain after the hard landing, Trixie sat up and took note of her surroundings, and almost immediately, her eyes lit up in recognition… She was home.




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Sat on the floor of her childhood bedroom, Trixie’s mind instantly shot to one thing as she clamoured to her feet and made a b-line for the door.

“MOMMY!” Trixie called out in overwhelming excitement as she reached out and yanked the doorknob… the door didn’t open.

“No, please! MOMMY! DADDY!” Trixie cried out desperately, hoping with her whole heart that they would call back to her, but instead….

“They’re not here.” The familiar voice of the Little Girl that had plagued Trixie’s mind with fear and cowardice said, which startled Trixie as she turned around to see… herself. More specifically, her 10-year old self, sitting on her bed with a colouring pad and a crayon in her lap.

Trixie’s heart rate dropped slightly following the jump scare, as her eyes fell upon who she had once been, and in many ways, still was. Ethel had succeeded.

“Hello,” Trixie greeted the Little Girl with a warm smile, “D-Do you know who I am?”

The Little Girl looked at Trixie as though she was utterly stupid.

“Well duh, you’re grown up me!” The Little Girl said a matter of factly.

Trixie smiled slightly. Not many people ever put the words “grown up” and “Trixie” in the same sentence before, but Trixie liked the sound of it.

“Well then, smarty pants, do you know why I’m here?” Trixie responded sassily as she walked over and sat on the bed next to her younger self.

“You wanna stop being scared all the time, so you got Grammy Ethel to bring you here so you can ask me to be brave so we can win the death tournament… I do live in your head, ya know.” The Little Girl responded with far superior sass to Trixie, who nodded as though to say “fair enough”.

“Weeeeeeeeell, are you gonna stop being such a scaredy cat?” Trixie asked, her question earning a sour look from her younger self.

“No.” The Little Girl responded stubbornly, causing Trixie to roll her eyes… here we go again.

“Why!?” Trixie asked, raising her voice in frustration. “We didn’t die the last four times we did those horrible deathmatches, so what makes you think we’re gonna die now!?”

“The only reason we survived last time was because I MADE US STAY DOWN!” The Little Girl admitted with no shame whatsoever. “If we did it your way, then we woulda been ripped apart by that big meanie Jeffry, or some other person in the next round!”

“YOU DON’T KNOW THAT!” Trixie yelled at the Little Girl, before she jumped off the bed and began pacing around in anger and frustration, so badly wanting to punch something in the pee-pee. “We coulda beated Jeffry! WE DID BEATED JEFFRY! And we coulda beated the other people too! But NO, instead you decided that we weren’t good enough or tough enough to go the whole way, and so you chickened out! And because YOU chickened out, WE LOST, and then I had to spend all this time thinking I wasn’t good enough, when really, I NEVER GOT TO FIND OUT!”

The Little Girl’s eyes welled up with tears as she received the telling off of a lifetime from her grown up self, but Trixie doesn’t seem to notice this as she continues her verbal onslaught.

“But in the past few months, I kicked Jeffry Mason’s butt and showed him who I was! I went up against the bestest ever in Gabrielle and Cyrus Truth, and proved that I was JUST AS GOOD AS THEM! And two weeks ago, I kicked the TV Champion’s butt, and proved that I was good enough to be a champion ON MY OWN!” Trixie bubbled with a mixture of rage and confidence as she listed off her resume over the past 3 months. “I DID ALL THAT! MEEEE! Even though you and your stupid voice kept telling me I wasn’t good enough, I proved to EVERYONE that I am, and I’m gonna DO IT AGAIN!”

Trixie’s eyes fell upon the Little Girl, and her anger only grew stronger.

“And it’s about dang time that you fucking GREW UP and stopped holding me back!” Trixie glared a hole through the Little Girl’s eyes, resenting her for never growing up after their parents’ death. “If you tried to help me and tell me that I CAN instead of telling me I CAN’T, then maybe we would already be the X Champion! But all you ever do is tell me how WEAK and STUPID I am, when the only reason I’m as WEAK and STUPID as I am is because YOU NEVER GREW UP! SO FUCKING GROW UP AND HELP ME!”

In a moment of seismic levels of rage and frustration, Trixie let out a guttural scream, before she punched a hole through the door that she had earlier failed to open. Seeing this display of sheer aggression, coupled with the verbal clip that Trixie had fired in her direction, the Little Girl looked completely shell-shocked, but, perhaps in a sign of trying to “grow up” like Trixie wanted her to, the Little Girl refused to let her tears fall.

“I-… I’m sorry.” The Little Girl spoke softly, trying not to further anger her seething adult self. “I-… I just wanted to keep us safe. I never meant to hold us back, I jus- I just didn’t want us to get hurt… but, I guess I was the one that was hurting us all along.”

The Little Girl’s head dipped in shame as Trixie, having had a moment to breathe, dropped down to the floor with her back up against the door, trying to calm herself down and relax.

“I know you didn’t mean too.” Trixie said, taking another deep breath. “You just didn’t want me to get us killed, eh?”

Trixie let out a slight smirk, one which the Little Girl returned.

“Hehehe, yeah, but I guess we can die together if it all goes bad in the tournament.”

“For real? You’re gonna help me win this thing!?” Trixie said with a great deal of hope in her eyes as she climbed excitedly to her feet.

The Little Girl climbed off her bed and walked over to Trixie, before looking up at her older self with a brave face.

“We got this.” The Little Girl said, before she embraced Trixie in a hug.

Trixie’s heart danced as she heard the vote of confidence from who had been her biggest critic for her entire life. She had finally managed to convince herself to let go of the fear and to not let it control her any longer. Finally, Trixie had managed to get her fears in check…

… or so she thought.

As the two Trixie’s embraced, Trixie's entire being had suddenly been flooded by an overwhelming feeling of dread… she just couldn’t help it. For all her effort, the Little Girl could not keep her fears in check, and they poured into Trixie’s mind, drowning every little bit of confidence that Trixie had managed to accumulate over a year of trial and tribulation… and this sent Trixie into a panic.

Images of her impending doom at the hands of one and all of the other competitors in the KODM tournament flashed before her mind's eye. Images of her being whipped with belts and ropes. Being stabbed with forks and having chairs crashing upon her cranium. Images of her choking to death as she hung from her neck, which had been trapped in the ropes, and images of having thumbtacks poured down her throat… and in a moment of sheer desperation, where she just wanted the images to stop… Trixie squeezed, and squeezed, and squeezed, the Little Girl trapped in her arms, and she squeezed, desperately wishing to be rid of all this fear and doubt and horror, and with tears in her eyes, Trixie squeezed as hard as she could, until…

… until the images stopped.

Suddenly, all of Trixie’s fears fell away as though they had been snatched all at once. Every doubtful thought and terrifying image of her demise had vanished without a trace, and Trixie released her tight squeeze. The look in Trixie’s eyes was trance-like, as though not a single thought lay behind them. She felt only the sweet bliss of internal silence… there was nothing. No scared little voice filling her mind with anxiety and doubt. No feelings of fear or trepidation, not even a momentary concern about what was to come. Trixie had freed herself from the cage of anxiety that, she felt, had trapped her in mediocrity for pretty much her entire life… but at what cost?

Trixie looked down… the Little Girl was nowhere to be seen. Gone. And worryingly, Trixie felt nothing. No remorse, no happiness, not even relief… It was as though, when the Little Girl had gone, so too had Trixie, because the woman that stood alone in her childhood bedroom, well, that woman was not Trixie. Not the Trixie we’ve all grown to know, at least. There had always been darkness inside of Trixie, but there had been so much light that the darkness had been but a shadow in the corner, but now?

… it seemed that only the darkness remained. The light had been switched off. In a moment of intense desperation, Trixie had done exactly what she had tried to convince the Little Girl inside of her not to do… she had let her fears take control of her, and as a result, she may have just inadvertently rid herself of all that made her Trixie.

The entire scene began to fade away. The Little Girl that had made up so much of Trixie’s personality, a personality that many FWA fans had grown to love and root for, was gone. Trixie’s childhood bedroom, which had served as one of the few safe places that Trixie ever knew, began to fade away, until soon, there was nothing but darkness. Darkness… and Trixie.



“Are you okay, deary?” Grandma Ethel’s voice rang out as Trixie opened her eyes, back in Ethel’s hotel room.

She laid on Ethel’s bed, her expression vacant. She didn’t respond to Ethel’s question, as though she hadn’t heard it… she just laid there, thinking about what she had just done. The Trixie that we had all come to know would have been heartbroken had something like this happened. She had essentially lost a friend… an incredibly annoying friend, but a friend nonetheless. And she had also lost a part of herself… maybe she had lost the part of herself that cared.

“Trixie?” Ethel called out again, worried that she may have messed up the spell and caused Trixie damage.

Aware that Grandma Ethel and the others may not understand what she had just done, Trixie sat up and gave Ethel a smile. A smile that seemed a poor, soulless imitation of the Trixie we knew.

“I’m fine.” Trixie said, her voice almost ethereal.

Ethel stared into Trixie’s eyes, which seemed hollow and devoid of meaning and soul, and she knew that something was not right.

“A-Are you sure, deary?” Ethel asked, becoming increasingly concerned.

Trixie kept up the act. She smiled ever wider. A smile which had before been her most beautiful feature, but now, it looked downright terrifying.

“Yes, Grammy Ethel.” Trixie said, gazing into Ethel’s eyes in a way that sent shivers down the old lady’s spine. “I am not afraid anymore.”

“W-Well, th-that’s good to hear…” Ethel responded, not quite sure how to act, as though she was talking to a complete stranger. In a moment of self preservation, Ethel felt the unwavering need to get as far away from Trixie as she could. “O-Okay well, i-if that’s all you needed… I-I’d best get some sleep. Us old people n-need as much of that as we can get, you know?”

As Ethel chuckled nervously, Trixie hopped off the bed, which forced Ethel to instinctively step back.

“Okie dokie. Night night, Grammy Ethel.” Trixie said as she smiled hauntedly, before making her way out of Ethel’s room. Even the way Trixie walked seemed off to Ethel.

As Trixie shut the door behind her, headed back to her room, Ethel stared at the door, her wrinkled face filled with dread, and she wondered…

“What have I done….”



THE END
 
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Cyrus Truth

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cLhr_m40WgYDq9xzwBl200Tu82as2_P4xczcB63r3XFSN6JEtwuPc-foGtnr6ZpC9RLcgyBlNZSTMnCHOUbuwBAGTT_shAX7twci53DxkNG6eGFNnm-KBWP6E-sg3CksIuVT-k6BIgliqfvAeGRoKNA


“The Ebb and Flow of Fortune! The Dangerous Swing of the Pendulum!!!”

Well.

That didn’t go the way The Mad Wizard expected.

Deep in a secret chamber nestled within the famed Catacombs of Paris, hidden from all but the most astute practitioners of the Dark Arts, we find Konchu Hao resting in a cozy, Victorian-esque study. This appears to be one of many safe rooms for mages and other denizens of the world of shadows, a place of respite away from prying eyes where one can focus on work that the world of dawn need not see.

Konchu is certainly here, working on something. As Epsilon remains posted by a series of beakers and boiler vials, dutifully stirring some kind of potion or tonic with a somewhat comically oversized spoon, Konchu is seated at a small round table, a massive tome that, upon closer examination, appears to be some kind of ancient cookbook for tinctures and tonics. It’s impossible to read, of course…whatever language was used to write this tome is not anything remotely commonplace and is likely a long dead dialect. But it’s nothing so complicated for the Mad Wizard. After all, the secrets of the world and uncovering forgotten lore and legends are what drives Konchu when he’s not in the middle of a wrestling ring.

When he is, however…

With the cookbook to his left, Konchu’s game board is to his right. The figurines of the F1 Climaxxx competitors set up, with the Pool B participants set off to the far end, while Konchu’s figure and the remaining three members of Pool A nearer to the Mad Wizard’s right hand. The Gerald Grayson figure that has served as Xtacee’s stand-in has been knocked to its side.

Frustratingly, Michelle von Horrowitz’s figure remains standing.

The match in Seoul has been a source of frustration for the Mad Wizard since the final bell rang and Michelle’s hand was raised in victory.

All things considered? Konchu feels like he really should’ve won that one.

Konchu fought as hard as he ever has, knowing that beating Michelle would’ve all but guaranteed his entry into the finals and paved the way to the ultimate prize of the Climaxxx’s crown.

And yet, she won.

Konchu can’t even find a spot where she utilized nefarious tactics in order to achieve that victory.

Yet…something feels off about how that match ended. Michelle competed and fought, but…the passion, the desire…was it there? For Konchu, the desire is always evident when he competes, especially when the prize is so great. After all, why wrestle if you don’t find some kind of enjoyment out of the struggle? Why bother stepping into the ring if you don’t love the thrill of the contest.

But it just seemed like Michelle was going through the motions, as if she knew she was going to win and simply decided to follow through with something predestined. And frustratingly, she did win. No desire, no passion, nothing save for spiteful resolution and a hunger for avenues to flaunt her supposed superiority so that she doesn’t have to dwell in her own insecurities.

Hells, the Grand Slam is something to aspire to…but it seems as if that objective is simply to bit the nose of another.

Hmm…maybe that’s why Cyrus always found Dreamer so damn frustrating.

Regardless, what’s done is done. Dwelling on the loss accomplishes nothing and the path to the finals of the tournament is still relatively simple, if still somewhat difficult.

Besides, far more interesting events have happened since then.

And while there could be an argument that Xtacee bowing out of the tournament and allowing Michelle to simply move on without having to wrestle a third grueling match like Konchu is now forced to, and Xavien’s thuggish acts finally catching up to him are something worth discussing?

They’re irrelevant compared to the FWA North American Championship.

Konchu wasn’t present backstage for the North American Showdown Special. He instead found himself watching the event like most fans via the FWA Network. While one could argue that Konchu had a vested interest given the stakes, but…no, not really. Whether Mike Parr or Bryan Baxter ended up being the victor doesn’t change the fact that Konchu doesn’t get to become the North American Champion unless he wins out through the rest of the Climaxxx.

Still, whoever DID win would somewhat change the makeup of the match Konchu DOES have to win in order to get to that point.

It was a brutal fight between the man looking to be the longest reigning FWA North American Champion and the man who held that record. And in the end? Mike Parr would win…and Bryan Baxter would still end up tying Parr’s record.

As Konchu moves his figurine in front of the Mike Parr effigy, he pauses for a minute as his hawkish gaze from behind his mask focuses in. Mike Parr is the one. The man that stood between him and leaving Pool A to head into the finals of the tournament.

And despite Parr’s past being linked and intertwined with so many other wrestlers like Truth, Krash, and even Michelle…

It would be foolish to ignore that Parr’s journey in FWA hasn’t crossed Konchu’s time and again.

From teaming together early on during Konchu’s chase for the X Division Championship to facing off against one another on several occasions, with Parr’s return match to FWA being against Konchu when Chris Peacock decided to no-show simply being the most recent chapter, “The Prodigy” has been crossing paths with the denizen of the shadows throughout all of Konchu’s time in FWA.

Sure, the Mad Wizard has been the victor more times than not whenever the two had faced off head-to-head. But in the end, the past is a fragment of the whole story behind this one, upcoming conflict.

To think he’s simply going to roll Mike Parr is foolish, especially at this late stage of the game.

Konchu’s shoulders drop, tension released with a deep exhale.

“Epsilon? Is the mixture ready?”

“Yekal!”

“Good. Ignis isn’t one to trade from his private collection of ancient druidic artifacts often, so we must complete this brew of mind reading potions. There’s several objects I’ve had my eyes on for some time, and I’m not about to let this opportunity pass me by.”

“Guzaki, Jubaraka! Ilo polzevakzi.”

“My gratitude, dear friend. Well, then…”


Konchu rises from the table. He leaves the game board alone, his figure standing nose-to-nose with Parr’s. He takes the alchemical cookbook and tucks it under his arm as he approaches the bubbling liquids in the vials and beakers.

With a knowing grin and fierce, determined look in his eyes, Konchu simply says:

“Let us not waste this opportunity.”

*******

We find ourselves inside of a massive clock tower, an immense space with giant clocks on all four walls, ticking down with the aid of massive gears and cogs. Timers click with an almost rhythmic cadence as the hands of the clock slowly, methodically tick to keep time, to ensure that any who would look upon them would know the exact hour, minute, and second. There’s a small platform accessible by a floor hatch below the timing mechanisms and whirring gears, furnished with velvet chairs, a small bookshelf, and a writing desk.

Dangling above in the center of this configuration of cogs is a swinging, blade-like pendulum, swaying back and forth in time with the ticking of the clock. And sitting in a chair, right underneath the pendulum, is Konchu Hao, sipping tea from a cup while holding a saucer with his free hand. He’s dressed in his usual ring attire, but it is ornamented with sigils and markings of ancient arcane means. Total gibberish for any not in the know…but powerful wards and enhancements to bring out the very best of whoever wears it.

After taking his sip, The Mad Wizard puts the cup and saucer down on the floor at his feet. He leans forward with his arms crossed on his knees, looking forward into the camera with an almost unsettling look of utter seriousness.

“Michael. So, it comes to this, doesn’t it? While Michelle von Horrowitz gets to take a week off from the tournament, we end up coming to the crossroads for either of our F1 Climaxxx aspirations. How utterly poetic, if it wasn’t for the fact that two of the eight competitors either bowed out due to their own ineptitude or were forced out when they messed around and found out that their actions have consequences.

“Regardless, I would be remiss if I didn’t congratulate you for your record-setting fifth reign as FWA North American Champion and felling the giant that is Bryan Baxter. Well done, Michael. You’re returned to familiar waters and preserved…somewhat…your reputation as the most dominant and prolific FWA North American Champion in the history of the Fantasy Wrestling Alliance.

“But now…what?”

Tick. Tock.

The pendulum continues to swing as the clock continues to wind. We see from the interior of the clock tower as we see that it’s twelve minutes to midnight. Twelve minutes to the beginning of a new day.

“Unless you’ve decided to abstain from the wager that Baxter put forward when this tournament started, your newly-won prize is still up for grabs in the F1 Climaxxx, yes? You fought so damn hard during the North American Showdown to ensure that your record was not eclipsed, and even then? You could only ensure that you share the record for longest reign with the man you liberated the title from. And now? You stand one loss away from going down in history for what might well be the title’s shortest reign.

“I imagine that must weigh heavily on you, Michael. That feeling of ecstasy in reclaiming the title you’ve, more or less, embodied in your tenure in FWA and proving that even the seemingly unstoppable are not quite so implacable…but now? It’s very possible that you’ll lose that title so quickly. And the worst thing? Your title could be held up while four other wrestlers compete to claim it, and you are incapable of doing anything about it.”

Konchu stands up and smooths out the creases in his robes. Without raising his voice, without even a hint of anger or rage, he tosses the chair he was sitting on out of the way. He does not need it anymore. And he’s not about to share center stage with anyone or anything.

The Mad Wizard looks up. The clocks? Nine minutes to midnight.

“Michael, we’ve done this dance of suplexes and knife-edge chops before, haven’t we? Whether it’s teaming together against our mutual rivals, or a bludgeoning after my good friends, Powerwolf gave me a hero’s welcome in Germany. And lest we forget our most recent contest that heralded your return after Chris Peacock decided that the risk of being embarrassed by me was too high after I had taken his Tag Team Championship. That one has stuck with me for some time. After all, while I won as I had previously against you? It was a close thing. Too close. You were quite rude after my victory, and at the time I thought it was absolutely uncalled for.

“But I think I understand now. You’re aware, aren’t you? You know full well that time is not on your side to achieve what you’ve failed to time and time again. While five reigns and a record length tenure with the FWA North American Championship is worthy of praise and an eventual induction into the Hall of Fame…there’s always this sense, isn’t there? This feeling that everything you’ve done, everything you’ve accomplished and all the magnificent rivalries and matches you’ve had…

“All of it, every single bit of it won’t mean a damned thing if you stumble again to rise to the top.”

Back and forth. Back and forth.

Tick, tock. Tick, tock.

Five minutes to midnight.

“What you’ve failed to understand, and admittedly what took me far too long to realize, is that our lives are in a constant state of flux. A pendulum of success and failure that continues to swing back and forth. Sometimes, the arc of the swing is a short one, with quick peaks and valleys. Other times, it’s a much longer swing. Your failures pile one after another until it seems like that’s all you have…but given enough patience and time, the pendulum will always swing back if you dedicate your heart and fight like a devil long enough.

“Your career, Michael…you’ve experienced the swing of the pendulum again and again. Moments of brilliance, incredible runs of excellence…and periods of ruination and utter loss. And through it all, through all the peaks of the pendulum’s swing, when it seemed like you’d finally, FINALLY reach the pinnacle of this industry…what has happened? How many times have the so-called “experts” claimed that you were destined for the throne, only for you to fall short and return to damnation?”

Konchu is standing just underneath the pendulum, eyes burning like smouldering coals, stance tight like a coiled viper. There is a look of gravitas, of utter and complete focus in Konchu’s body language as the pendulum continues to swing and the clock continues to tick down.

Two minutes to midnight.

“It’s not so different for me, admittedly. But the most important distinction is that I understand how the world works, Michael. How one must and always be aware of where the arc of the pendulum is. And that in spite of one’s failings, it is always possible to find the path back to redemption.

“But in your case? It is obvious to me that your victory against Baxter was the peak of your arc. You preserved your North American Championship legacy and built upon it in a magnificent match. And I don’t begrudge you that, Michael. However…that is where this ends.

“I have fought too damn hard and suffered too much indignity to let my journey in the F1 Climaxxx end with you securing the last spot in the Final Four. So congratulations on defeating Baxter, Michael. My sincerest respect for you becoming a five time North American Champion.

“And thank you…thank you for delivering me this opportunity. This chance to end your reign in magnificent fashion. In glorious combat. And show those wretches that I will face to secure the F1 Climaxxx victory just who it is that will dictate the future of this company.

“Your peak of the arc is over, Michael. There will be no more glories for you to achieve. And your time…is up.”

*GONG*

*GONG*

*GONG*

Midnight has come.

The day has ended. The victories of yesterday washed clean.

And now a new day has come.

The pendulum has had its final swing, as the connective arm has shattered, sending the sharpened point down towards the Mad Wizard.

But Konchu does not move.

This pendulum, this sword? It’s not the Sword of Damocles hanging over him.

This blade was meant for someone else.

The pendulum crashed down behind Konchu Hao, missing him by inches and crashing through the floor. All of the furniture, all of the flooring gives way…but Konchu remains in place, standing on a piece of floor bolted to a support beam. The clock continues to chime, heralding in the change of days and a new dawn that will eventually come.

Konchu straightens up as he stretches out his arms in an almost angelic pose. A herald of the new dawn, but a shadow of death that threatens to swallow the world whole.

The Mad Wizard is gritted. Determined. And merciless.

“You stand between me and victory. Between me and the opportunity that I’ve hungered for. Between ME…and redemption. Revel in your victory against Baxter, Michael. Because on Fight Night? I’m coming for your head. You will taste no more victory in the F1 Climaxxx. And your title reign will come to an end…a long, agonizing end that you will have no recourse for.

“You have never, NEVER beaten me, Michael. And on Fight Night? With my spot in the finals in the balance? That will not change. And the pendulum of my destiny? It will swing the way it must to bring about the victory I desire…and DESERVE.”

The clock has not stopped chiming. Something is broken. Something is shattered.

Time itself seems to be off-balance.

No…it’s not that.

Konchu cackles, madly…but as he stands among the wreckage brought about by the fall of the pendulum, the incessant gonging of the clock tower is the rhapsody of Konchu’s future.

Mike Parr might be the champion. May have something resembling momentum.

But Konchu Hao is where momentum goes to die.

The Mad Wizard is the master of his fate. Time itself bends to his will.

And it’s long past time for Konchu to achieve what he’s fought too hard to claim…​
 

Nostradamus

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“Alright babes, we’re right here in the back, row 18 and seats E-F-G. X gets the end seat like always. Antonio, you and your sensitive stomach can get the window seat."

“Whaaat, it helps keep my mind off of vomiting.”

“You would think that for someone without a gag reflex, you wouldn’t throw up so easily.”

“That only applies to things going in, Monica. Coming out is an entirely different thing.”


Antonio puts the trio’s bags in the overhead compartment and shimmies his way into the window seat, followed by Monica, who sits in the middle seat, and lastly by Xperienx Xtacee who sits in the aisle seat.

“It’s always so nice being between the two of you.”

Antonio chuckles at Monica.

“I mean sitting between the two of you, silly, hahaha.”

“My loves… why did I agree to this? What am I even doing on this plane? We used to ride on private jets every time we traveled, and now we’re on a commercial flight? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying the way all these people travel is a bad thing, but this has never been our thing.”


Monica and Antonio look at each other with concerned looks on their faces. They both turn their attention to look at Xtacee, who is just leaned back into his chair and staring straight up. Monica places a hand on Xtacee’s leg.

“Baby, it’s ok. Everyone has a rough patch-"

“Monica, please.”

“X, no, really. You don’t need to get in your own head. Sure, maybe things didn’t work out with the Undisputed Xperienx, and maybe stuff got a little out of control with Silenx-“

“Huh, with who?”

“Monica…”

“Oh, nevermind. Point is, everyone has bad days, babe. Your in-ring performance isn’t always going to match your… other performance.”

“I love you both… but how can you two just completely ignore that I’ve been nothing but a loser since I’ve come here?”

“You’ve always put on a spectacular show though, X!”


“Yeah, and everyone loves seeing you, you’re a fan-favorite!”

Xtacee moves Monica’s hand off of his leg.

“Alright, so I’m a flashy loser. I’ve let my teammates down. I’ve let our friends back home down. I’ve let you down, even if you won’t say it… and I’ve let myself down.”

“Baby, it’s going to be alright, you’ll bounce-“

“Don’t you fucking tell me it’s going to be alright! You’re not the one getting pinned in the ring all the time! Neither of you know what it’s like to lose out there! Sure, everyone loves me, but what happens when all this losing turns that love in laughs and I’m nothing more than a novelty? A comedy act!”


Xtacee is standing out of his seat and yelling at Monica. Everyone on the plane is staring at the "throuple" as this argument happens. Antonio slowly rises out of his seat to respond to Xtacee.

“X, sit down. You’re acting-“

“Crazy? I know that’s what you’re going to say, Antonio. You both know I’m crazy…”


Monica grabs Xtacee’s hand and gently tugs on his arm to lower him down to his seat. She reaches into her handbag and pulls out a pill bottle.

“Are those the meds, Monica?...”

“No, not the usual ones. This’ll help you sleep on the plane until we get to Japan.”

“Ok… and I’m sorry…”

“We all get frustrated sometimes. It’s ok, baby.”


Monica hands the sleeping medication to Xtacee and he proceeds to gulp it down with a sip from a bottle of water they have. After a few minutes, Xperienx Xtacee is fast asleep. After a few more minutes, and a couple of delays, the plane takes off from the runway.​

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------​

*Th-thump*

The plane hits a minor amount of turbulence and jostles Xtacee awake in seat 18-E at the back of the plane. He is snug in his dark brown, almost black, suit and his black raincoat that is shielding him from the cold atmosphere of the plane. While he was asleep, Monica and Antonio must’ve ordered him drinks, because sitting on his tray in front of him are a bourbon and a 7-Up.

“Wait, where did they get off to? Ah, what’s it matter anyway. They probably changed their seats… They don’t want to sit with a loser.”

Xtacee grabs his drinks and mixes them together before taking a sip… then another sip… then gulping it down completely before placing it down on the tray with a thud.

“I need to show them I’m a winner… I need to show them that their love is for something.”

“Sir, are you alright? Do you need anything? You seem upset.”


Overhearing his mumblings, a flight attendant walked over to check up on Xtacee. He stares at the woman, admiring her curly hair, sweet demeanor, and small frame. She places her hand on his shoulder, and he places his hand on her hand out of appreciation.

“I’m doing great, darling. Actually, you have perfect timing, I’m trying to prove to my lovers that I’m a winner. That I’m worthy of their love. Do you think you can help me with that?”

“How can I be of service, sir?”


Reaching in his pocket, Xtacee pulls out a note and hands it to the flight attendant.

“If you could please read that note yourself and then hand it to the pilot, I would appreciate it very much.”

Quizzically, the flight attendant opens the note and begins to read it. Her puzzled face quickly turns to terror as she looks back up at Xtacee, who now has a comically large briefcase in his lap.

“Miss – I have light tubes in my briefcase.”

Xtacee opens it slightly to reveal several light tubes to the flight attendant. She folds the note back up and flashes him a nervous smile.

“I’ll get your message to our pilot right away, sir.”

“Thank you, ma’am, you’ve been lovely.”


The flight attendant quickly shuffles her way into the cockpit to relay Xtacee’s message. After a short while, the pilot can be heard speaking to the passengers over the intercom of the plane.

“Ladies and gentlemen, I would first like to thank you for flying Northwest Airlines today. Due to a sudden and unforeseen mechanical issue, we will be making an emergency landing in Seattle. Upon landing, you will receive further instructions from our flight crew. Thank you for your time, enjoy the remainder of our flight.”

After about an hour or so, the plane makes a smooth landing at an airport in Seattle. Flight crew begins to shuffle passengers off of the plane, except for Xtacee, who looks through the crowd for Monica and Antonio.

“Where the heck did those two go? Did they jump off the plane or something? Are they really that ashamed of being with a loser? Hey, Miss Flight Attendant, come sit with me while all of my demands are met.”

“Yes, sir, of course. I’ll have you know that the parachutes are on their way to you now and the $200,000 worth of glass panes, pizza cutters, and wooden tables are being loaded onto the plane as we speak.”

“Perfect, you’re wonderful, such a doll. And it’s just one employee bringing the parachutes, correct, baby?”

“Yup, sure is. Actually, I think that’s him now.”


Coming through the main door of the plane, having to duck down because of their height, is a person holding four parachutes – two front ones and two back ones. As this person gets closer, Xtacee’s face fills with a smile and he stands out of his seat to greet the man.

“Bubbles! Hey buddy, I never thought I’d see you again. Wow, they really went above and beyond to make me comfortable and meet my demands. How did you get here anyway, I thought you were with the UA?”

Bubbles simply shrugs and does a “crazy in the head” motion with his finger.

“Yeah, this is all really cray-cray. I guess I’ll be using the second parachute after all. Miss, you’re free to go now, I have my clown friend here with me now.”

“Very well, thank you sir… Actually, can I have an autograph before I go, I absolutely LOVE you in the FWA!”

“Sure!”


Xtacee reaches into his comically large briefcase and retrieves both a light tube and a black sharpie. He hands the light tube to Bubbles so he can hold it as Xtacee applies his signature topped off with a heart. After he signs it, Bubbles hands it off to the flight attendant who happily skips away off of the plane without a care in the world.

“Ok Bubbles, I need you to go fly the plane now.”

Bubbles stares at Xtacee as if to say, “what about the pilot?”

“Oh, the pilot can go into the luggage bay with the glass panes, pizza cutters, and wooden tables.”

Bubbles gives a lazy thumbs-up and goes about his business as instructed by Xperienx Xtacee.

“Welp, to Japan we go!”

With Bubbles flying the plane, and the pilot’s screams being heard from the luggage bay, Xtacee gets up from his seat and starts to look out all the windows. Out of each one he begins to see different scenes, and they disturb him. Normally, seeing himself flat on his back is a blessing and something he smiles at, but these scenes are not the kind filled with orgasmic pleasure; these scenes are filled with agonizing defeat. Each window on the plane gives him a glimpse of every time he has lost in the FWA. Every opportunity he has failed to capitalize on, every big moment that his light didn’t shine, and every disappointment he has experienced and put all his people through. Xtacee’s eyes bounce around in their sockets, his head pounds, and his breathing begins to pick up pace. He suddenly makes the decision to slam his fist as hard as he can into the small window of the plane… and within the blink of an eye, he is hurtling through the rainclouds. The entire side and bottom of the plane exploded, sending debris, glass, pizza cutters, and wooden tables out into the sky. There is no fire or smoke, and although the plane is in a visible state of destruction, Bubbles is still flying perfectly through the sky.

“I deserve this. Spiraling down and becoming nothing, with nobody by my side. Alone, scared, cold, and broken. Nothing but the sound of the wind going by my ears. I… I… why is everything pink?

Pink everything is. The clouds around Xtacee have taken a new shape and everything feels much calmer. The environment is no longer cold and wet, but warm and welcoming. Xtacee feels like he is now floating in the air instead of cutting through it. He is among millions, perhaps billions, of cherry blossom petals. As he glides through them, they make all sorts of familiar shapes in front of him. Some are the shapes of the aforementioned glass panes, pizza cutters, and wooden tables. Other shapes include kendo sticks, trashcans, fire extinguishers, heart shaped chocolate boxes, fuzzy handcuffs, a bull rope, some metal wiring, and the FWA X Championship.

“Mine! Mineminemineminemineminemine!”

Xtacee repeats the word ad nauseum and reaches out for the cherry blossoms in the shape of the FWA X championship. And then his body slams into the ocean, practically exploding on impact and spreading bits of his DNA everywhere, but not in the way it usually is.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Xperienx Xtacee jolts awake in seat 18-E at the back of the plane, accidentally kneeing the tray in front of him and spilling his Starry soda all over himself and the floor. Monica and Antonio also jump as they are startled by the way Xtacee abruptly awoke. Antonio reaches up to hit the light above them, signaling they need a flight attendant.

“Oh baby, it’s ok! Relax, I think you had a nightmare. We definitely need to tell the doctor about that. This medication probably gave you a weird side effect.”

“I’m on the plane? I’m still on the plane? Monica, I was falling. Monica, I WAS FALLING!... When did I order a Starry?”

“Yes, you’re on the plane. Everything’s alright, my love. And you ordered the Starry right before you fell asleep.”


A flight attendant walks over and places her hand on Xtacee’s shoulder.

“Oh, sir, don’t worry, a lot of people have unforeseen reactions to flying. I’ll help get you all cleaned up. We wouldn’t want that Starry running your fancy clothes.”

“Thank you! We all appreciate it.”

“Are we almost to Japan?”

“Look at the screen, my love. We’re more than halfway there, not too much longer.”


Monica holds Xtacee’s head close to her chest and comforts him. Antonio helps the flight attendant clean up the mess of Starry on Xtacee and the floor as the flight continues on its way to Japan where Xperienx Xtacee will compete in his first ever King of the Deathmatch Tournament.​
 

Jimmy King

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Redemption Tour

Fallout 038
The Island of Tsushima in Japan
02/12/24


“I don’t think you should compete in the King of the Deathmatch. It is in your best interest to take some time off and let your knee heal before it worsens.”

That was not what The Wildcard wanted to hear from Dr. Smith, FWA’s resident doctor. Randall knew it was coming after his knee flared up on him again during his match with Kleio De Santos, but he didn’t want to hear that.

“Fuck.”

That’s all Randall can say at that moment.

This was his shot at redeeming himself after last year’s showing in King of the Deathmatch. It was a match that is still discussed a year later, and he takes great pride in that, even though he did not come out on top.

This year was going to be different. This was going to be his redemption tour.

Fuck it.

It’s still going to be his redemption tour. He won’t let a bum knee stop him from doing what he wants.

He’s the goddamn Wildcard. He can fight through the pain. He’s been through worse, and he’s still here.

“I see that look and know what you’re thinking, but I think you should reconsider.”

“Doc, with all due respect, but I don’t give a fuck what you think.”


Dr. Smith lets out a sigh and shrugs. He exits the medical area and leaves Randall alone to think.

Now comes the hard part.

Telling Penny he’s still going through with it.

********************

“Are you sure you still want to do this?”


Penny asked Randall, even though she knew the answer already.

“Yes, I’m sure.”

They were sitting outside on the deck of their beach house in San Diego. The sound of waves crashing is their soundtrack amongst the silence between them.

Randall knew Penny didn’t want to hear that, and he understood her worries, but he knew she knew there was no talking him out.

Of course, that won’t stop her from trying.

“How many more years of this do you think you have left?”

“I don’t know.”

“I don’t think I can watch you put yourself through that again. You’re still recovering from last year’s match with Jeffry Mason.”


Randall remembers the match. He remembers the hell that he and Mason put each other through.

He remembers giving up. He remembers submitting and allowing Mason to win.

He won’t do that this time. He won’t give up.

“I know, I get it. I know why you don’t want me to do this, but I need to do this. I understand you don’t want to see it, but I need this.”

Penny nods in understanding.

She knows how much this means to him and understands that he wants to redeem himself. She doesn’t like it, but she knows that there is no talking him out of it. No matter how much she tried, she’d be wasting her breath.

“Promise me to come back in one piece.”

Randall doesn’t know if he can make good on that promise. He knows he’ll come out a different man than before he walked in, but this time, he won’t be walking out of it a loser.

Quitting is not an option.

He won’t stay down no matter what is thrown at him. He’ll keep on fighting till his very last breath.

The only way he can lose this is if they kill him.

They just might have to kill him.
 
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The ScapeDubb

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BIG BRYAN BAXTER

in


VLs4DVAQNbn2D2ObGu1gDZNQmos_hxRXddf5ljP7l2lkPUl5rKUk1vX61Hpdt6oqX2b1EVFl2nYI0T7nNEgy1ENCBRHvcFWwOoeMtZJwxMr0nEJJKlJmw_got7PJ8MaumBLUG6DVhzi0K7TGooBFFCA



Click here for the promo
“Don’t go in there.”

That was the warning Sir Stache gave to Jeremy Best as he approached the door to the study inside the Friendship Wrestling Alliance’s headquarters in rural Georgia. And by headquarters, this of course refers to the same two story home that Jeremy Best had watched over Krash for six months. The same house that was inherited by their former business manager, Mr. Bill Scorpane from his deceased aunt.

Jeremy just wanted to check on his friend.

He hadn’t talked to Bryan Baxter since before the North American Showdown.

Bryan had been confident going into the match. He had been confident for quite a while, really. It takes a pretty confident man to put your title on the line in the F1 tournament when literally no one was asking or expecting you to.

But Bryan didn’t even make it through the tournament to defend it.

Instead, he answered the call of Mike Parr. Parr wanted to keep Baxter from breaking his record as longest reigning North American Champion.

And Parr was mostly successful in doing so. Sure, Bryan ultimately ended up tying the record.

But he didn’t break it.

He wouldn’t go down in history as the longest reigning North American champion after all.

And the fact that Bryan was ignoring his text messages since then was concerning to Jeremy. He knew that Bryan was capable of going into some dark places. Things had been going so well for Bryan in the last year. He had been such a successful champion. He had found out about his daughter and been building a relationship with her. He was even making some pathway to repairing his relationship with Kristy.

But could this ruin all of that Bryan had done in the last year?

Could it undo all his hard work… what if this was the straw that broke the camel back and sent Bryan back to his previously defeated addiction.

“It’s okay,” Jeremy assured Stache, “I’m sure he’ll want to talk to me. I’m his best buddy!”

Jeremy took the door knob and turned it.

But it was locked.

Jeremy knocked.

“Hey buddy, it’s Jeremy.”

Jeremy held his ear up to the door.

“Go away.”

“Come on pal! I think you need a friend right now more than anything.”

“I’m fine.”

“You’ve locked yourself in a study and I’ve never known you to study anything. I think it’s quite clear it’s not fine.”

“I said I’m fine. Really… I just want some space.”

Jeremy pulled his ear away from the door. Well if that’s what his friend needed..
.
Nope!

Jeremy knew better than his friend what he needed. And right now, he didn’t need to be alone. No sir!

“A friend in need is a friend indeed!” Jeremy declared. “I think I know exactly what you need, Bryan.”

“Yeah,” he responded through the door. “To be left alone. I told you that.”

“Ah ha! That’s what you think you need! But that’s not what you really need. You need to talk to an old friend.”

“Jesus, Jeremy… take a hint for once…”

“I’m not talking about me, actually! I’ll be back in a bit!”

“What? No, seriously… I don’t want…”

But it was too late. Jeremy had already darted out the door leaving Sir Stache and Mejor Amigo shrugging their shoulders to one another.

Mejor Amigo approached the door of the study, giving it a ginger little knock. “Sir, can I get you something to eat at least? Or maybe a magic show would cheer you up.”

“Fuck off,” was all Bryan had to say to that offer.

Hanging his head low, Amigo walked back over to Stache.

“Really? A magic show?”

“What? Who doesn’t love a magic show? I thought for sure that’d do the trick! For sure!”

“You know you don’t need an excuse to call her. Just call and talk to her.”

Amigo’s face turned red beneath his mask as he bashfully lowered his head. “I have no idea what you’re talking about, amigo. I am just trying to help out Bryan.”

“Uh huh, okay… rrriiiiiggghhhhtttt…” Stache said, clearly not believing his partner.

“So, uh, is Jeremy coming back? Should we order him some lunch too?”

Stache shrugged his shoulders.

“I’ll just get a family order of fried chicken then from Bojangles.”

“Now you’re usin’ that head of yours.”









An hour later, Mejor Amigo returned to the safe house with a big box of fried chicken along with some delicious side orders of mashed potatoes, green beans, fresh from scratch biscuits, and of course a gallon of their unbeatable southern style sweet tea.
PC90Zs_uGT83sHthrDRJK2rZKpvcNW-j_mhfkO6GXMa0RVfxsS-GE7M2Os2jyrE2dn6ER1H0Y5UrhPP7PxWQZ3pxD7MeiXbxMvbOXpNncR9EmlCfPICuRQVdK5XjCz3OXCYlNQngYexivtgGpIYITNE


Friendship Wrestling Alliance would like to take a moment and thank Bojangles for sponsoring this promo.

Placing the box down on the kitchen table, Sir Stache quickly rushed over to grab a chicken leg while the aroma of the food began to make its way through the house, seeping through the cracks of the door to the study.

And for the first time all day, the door opened and Bryan Baxter emerged from the dark room.

“Hey! He lives!” Sir Stache exclaimed.

Bryan Baxter would say nothing however. He just walked over, grabbed the box of chicken and took the whole thing back with him to the study, shutting the door behind him. The sound of the door locking could be heard.

“Um.. that was for everyone,” Amigo voiced quietly.

Outside the house, a door could be heard slamming. A pair of heavy footsteps walked up the porch as the door swung open.

“Hot damn somethin’ smells good!”

Sir Stache and Mejor Amigo were both surprised by the appearance of a familiar voice and face. Well, familiar to Stache anyway.

“Mr. Scorpane?”

“In the flesh! Damn it feels good to be back on solid ground.”

For those who may be unaware, Mr. Scorpane has not been around lately, hence the surprise from Sir Stache. Scorpane had been the stingy business manager for both Jeremy Best and Bryan Baxter and had even been an integral part of Bryan Baxter’s quick rise to the North American Title. But for most of the last year, Scorpane had been running around with the Nephews after being kidnapped and recruited by the space travelers.

Kidnapping someone to try and win them over? Unheard of, I know. But that’s the Nephews for you.

“What are you doing here? Shouldn’t you be off on another cosmic adventure or something?” Sir Stache’s tone indicated some resentment. Scorpane had basically chosen the Nephews over the Buddy System back at Carnal Contendership when Bryan and Jeremy had a shot at the Connection’s tag titles.

“Haha! I always liked you Krush.”

“It’s Krash…” Stache corrected, “well, actually now it’s Stache. Sir Stache. We stopped the whole fake Krash thing after Back in Business.”

“Slow down buckaroo, I don’t need your whole life story. Because… I just don’t care. I see you have a new friend though… What's this guy’s deal?”

“That’s Amigo.”

“Right, I know he’s your friend. But what’s his name?”

“Amigo.”

“Si,” Mejor nodded.

“I don’t know why Jeremy and Bryan surround themselves with idiots. Look, I’m here because Jeremy asked me to come here to have a little talk with my boy. So where is he?”

Sir Stache points to the door of the study. “He’s in there. Locked himself in there basically. Won’t come out… well except to take our lunch… and he ain’t talkin’ to nobody.”

Mr. Scorpane puffed up his large chest confidently, adjusting the suspenders around his white dress shirt. “Well I’m not nobody.”

Scorpane stomped with authority to the study, turning the knob and of course, finding it locked. But let’s not forget this house belonged to his own flesh and blood and he knew a couple secrets about the house that no one else did. He jiggled the knob a bit…

And then just slammed his shoulder hard into the door, popping it open with ease.

Yeah, the secret was the locks weren’t that great.

“What the fuck?” Bryan cursed out of surprise, nearly choking on the chicken in his mouth. “Mr. Scorpane? What the Hell? What are you doing here?”

“Jeremy told me that you needed someone to slap some sense into your sad little pathetic ass.”

“Huh?”

“Well, those weren’t his exact words, of course. I’m paraphrasing.”

“I don’t need anyone right now, Bill. Or should I say, OBB? Billy Boy… whatever the fuck you’re wanting to call yourself now.”

“Ha! Ha! Ha!” Scorpane let out a deep and hearty chuckle as he took a seat down in the chair across from the desk that Bryan sat at. He reached over, helping himself to one of the pieces of chicken from the box. “Sure seems to me that you could use some help.”

“Where have you been the last year, huh? I have been just fine without you.”

“Are you though? Look at you? You look pathetic.”

“Fuck off.”

“Ah! There’s the people-person I know and love. Though I have to admit, you look a lot better than when we first met.”

“Fuck. Off.”

“So this should at least be a much easier turnaround job for me to fix.”

“Fix? I ain’t broken.”

“Then why the melodramatic self isolation?”

“Because I’m just pissed off, okay? Aren’t I allowed to be pissed off? Why don’t these people understand I’m in here trying to cool down so I’m not out there takin’ my anger out on people who don’t deserve it.”

“Sounds like a good idea to me.”

“Thank you, maybe you do get it after all. At least someone does.”

“No, not locking yourself in here. I meant taking that anger out on other people. Maybe that Chris Cockatoo guy? I thought you were Bryan Bastard now. Go be the Bastard. Go kick some people’s ass.”

“Maybe that’s not who I need to be anymore.” Bryan reflected, referencing his own attempts of trying to figure out what it means to be a father now.

“Sounds fucking lame.”

“Yeah, well… losing a title is pretty lame.”

“Yep! That’s true. Which is why you need me.”

“I told you I don’t need you.”

“I guaran-damn-tee you wouldn’t have lost that match if I had been in your corner.”

“Well you weren’t, were you? You just fuckin’ left us. Went off with the Nephews and said fuck you to me and Jeremy.”

“Ahh there it is,” Scorpane said as he finished another bite of the chicken, leaning back in the chair and propping his feet up on the desk. “I knew that was comin’.”

“You made your choice. So don’t come back and act like you want to help us.”

“You wanna know why I went with the Nephews?”

“I don’t fucking care. I just want you to leave.”

“Adventure! It was the adventure, Bryan!”

“I said I don’t care.”

“Maybe it was a midlife crisis, I dunno. But I’m in the last half of my life… and what have I done? Sure… I’ve built a nice business of used car dealerships in the Southeast… sure I’m successful and a manager of champions… but… my life was missing something. ADVENTURE! The Nephews gave me that chance… and… boy let me tell you… it’s been quite the ride. But Jesus Christ… so many weirdos… but hey, I got all the free beer I could want.”

Bryan sarcastically offered Mr. Scorpane a slow, golf clap. “Whoopity doo for you. Now get out.”

“But none of those reasons were because I didn’t want to be here with you guys. In fact, it was actually the exact opposite. I didn’t think you needed me anymore.”

“So what? You want to be the knight in shining armor to come back and save me? It’s one loss. I’ll be okay.”

“That’s true. It is just one loss. But it’s a loss you brought on yourself. I would’ve never let you even think of agreeing to such a stupid match.”

“So now I’m stupid?”

“The match was stupid. A stupid decision either way. What had Parr done since coming back… from the BEATDOWN you gave him, mind you… to deserve another shot at your title?”

“........”

“Huh? What’s that? What big marquee win did he have to earn a title shot?”

“I mean the dude had the record and is like THE person people think about when they think of the North American title.”

“To quote Bryan Baxter himself…. WHOOPITY DOO. Who gives a flyin’ fuck? If there’s one thing I’ve learned about this business… it’s not about what you’ve done… It's about what you have done lately. We both know Parr didn’t deserve that title shot and you just sat there and fuckin’ gave it to him. And now what? Now what? I’ll tell ya now what… you lost. Shit, Bryan. You even gave the guy another chance when he couldn’t beat you in sixty minutes. Another thing you didn’t have to do.”

“I wanted to be the best.”

“YOU CAN’T BE THE BEST BY LOSING! Guess what… you tell Parr ‘no…’ you don’t give him that shot. And what happens? You beat the record. You ERASE his accomplishment from the record book. No one’s gonna remember five years from now that you told him no to a title match. All they are gonna remember is Bryan Baxter had that record. And then it becomes Bryan Baxter that people think about when they think of the North American title. THAT’S how you become the best, Bryan. I thought I taught you… you go out there… every night… and you win. By any… means… necessary. You keep that title… whatever it takes. And if that means saying no to someone who hasn't earned a title shot… then you do it. No one from the top of the company was bookin’ that match without you agreeing to it for that reason. And if it means saying NO when the guy who couldn’t beat you in regulation when he says ‘FIVE MORE MINUTES ‘ - you say, ‘FUCK OFF!’”

“I just…”

“You just what? Wanted to do it the right way? Jesus Christ, Bryan. I was wrong. I got it very wrong. You did still need me. I got you to that title and we did it by winning any way we could.”

“But this isn’t about you suddenly wanting to be a better man and wanting to win the right way… you got too cocky. You thought you were above everyone. You thought you could take on anyone and you’d be fine. I mean if you’re talkin’ about stupid ass decisions you didn’t have to make… decisions no one asked you to make… you put your title on the line in the F1. The tournament of literally the current best the FWA has to offer… what kind of fuckin’ idiot does that?”

Bryan took a deep, heavy breath. He could feel his blood starting to boil… partially becoming angered with Scorpane, but also… admittedly… angry with himself. Because he knew…

He knew that nothing Scorpane was saying was untrue.

“You’re Icarus, Bryan. You flew too close to the sun.”

“I’m sorry, what?”

“Icarus? Really? You don’t get the reference?”

Bryan shook his head.

“They didn’t cover Greek Mythology in North Carolina, huh?”

“Dude, you’re from Georgia… not exactly the education capital of the world either. I’m sure we learned it but you think I paid attention to that shit?”

“Try reading a book sometime, Bryan. I mean you’ve locked yourself in a room full of them. Maybe try picking one up while you’re in here.”

“Yeah, I don’t see that happening. How about you give me the rundown like I used to make the nerds do right before our tests.”

Scorpane couldn’t help but chuckle. “Fine. So in Greek mythology, there was this guy named Icarus. He and his pops were held captive on this island called Crete, right? Now Icarus’s old man just happened to be an inventory. And he invented a way for them to get off the island. He made some wings that they could use to fly their way off the island. And so they did. Now his father told him… he warned him… don’t go too high because the sun would melt the wings… but Icarus wouldn’t listen. He was out there flying around… living like one of the Gods… but Icarus was no God… he was just a mere mortal. But those wings made him think he was… he felt unstoppable. He was flying free… and he ignored the warnings from his old man and just kept flying higher and higher…”
a9HZ7Y4nXvaTe6jAHWytu-UODHaJ-CEjWFEOXA5PQJuz30WpEUUbcpkDIL639RwVzMgk8wA7urFGuMW8dKCmYsD-ngz7LHCCZecbZRn3aKCIWG3AtnmGTGID-f-MrsT0w3QUxDOiFcKIDPOjtm0hzAE


“And sure enough… he went too far and the sun melted those wings… and all his ol’ daddy could do was watch as Icarus fell from the sky to his doom.”
“Ok, I get the point. You’re not wrong. Maybe I bit off more than I can chew. And I’m paying the price for it.”

“Yes, so it would seem. But the one difference between you and Icarus is that you didn’t have someone there to warn you. You’ve surrounded yourself with these spineless enablers who don’t have the balls to stand up to someone like you. Someone with the cojónes to walk right up to you, slap you across the face and tell you you’re making a stupid fuckin’ decision.”

Once again, Bryan knew Scorpane wasn’t wrong. While Stache and Amigo had proven themselves to be loyal and willing to put their own bodies on the line in the name of the Friendship Wrestling Alliance, they were nothing but a couple of yes-men. While Tonya Scott seems to have a bit of a backbone to her, she knows Bryan is paying the bills and wouldn’t want to do anything to not get her paycheck. And even Jeremy wouldn’t be one to tell Bryan no. He puts too much emphasis on positivity and would encourage Bryan to do anything Bryan thought was a good idea.

“That’s why you still need me, Bryan. To keep your head in check. To keep any… distractions… away from you… so that you can be the champion you deserve to be.”

Distractions? Bryan wondered if there was something specific Scorpane was alluding to there. After all, Bill has always been a man who chooses his words with a specific purpose. Was he referring to Kristy and Audrey?

“To keep you from getting too close to the sun again.”

Bryan remained speechless, not having the words to respond to Mr. Scorpane.

“Haha… just give it some thought, my boy. And just think… there’s some good news.”

“And what would that be?”

“Because also, unlike Icarus, you didn’t fall to your doom. You’re still alive. You just fell… into a safety net. Because you, my boy, have a second chance. You still have… the F1. That title can come right back to you… right where it belongs… where it never shoulda left. All you gotta do is get to the end and win it all. And I think… with a certain someone… in your corner… I think we can do just that.”

Mr. Scorpane stood up from his chair, tossing the bones of his now devoured chicken onto the desk. “I don’t need an answer now. Just think about it. My number still works… and I’ll stick around on Earth for a few days… so… just give me a call. But I think… this time… you’ll make the smart decision.”

The heavy steps of Mr. Scorpane’s boots filled the air of the dimly lit study as he walked back to the door. He opened it, as Sir Stache and Mejor Amigo scurried away, trying to act innocent despite the obvious eavesdropping they had been doing. “Good day, gentlemen. Thanks for keeping my place so well kept.”

“You’re… uh… welcome” Stache stumbled as Scorpane exited out the front door. The two masked friends sharing a quiet look to one another, both with the same thought having listened in on the conversation.

The same thing Bryan was now having to consider. What to do? What was next for Bryan Baxter?









“So I heard you had a surprise visitor,” Jeremy said with a coy smile as he returned to the house, walking into the now unlocked study.

“Yep,” Bryan’s response was short and monotone.

“Oooh! Bojangles! Can I grab a drumstick?”

“None left,” Bryan said, pushing the box across the desk. Jeremy peered in to see that there was nothing but the wings left.

“Oh,” Jeremy said with disappointment. “Oh well, less calories then, I suppose!” Once again managing to find a positive spin on things. And again just making Bryan reflect on the words from Mr. Scorpane. “So how was it catching up with Ole Billy Boy?”

“Don’t you hate him, Jeremy?”

“Huh? Why would I hate him? I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for Mr. Scorpane. Neither would you. We would’ve never reunited and brought back the Buddy System. I’ m not much for hating anyone, but I could certainly never hate him.”

“But he just up and left us.”

Jeremy shrugged. “Sure… but he seemed happy. And that’s what matters right? That our friends are happy. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen him happier than when he was running around with the Nephews.”

“You’re something else, Jeremy.”

“So I’ve been told!” Jeremy’s voice perked up. “Well it seems he was able to cheer you up if you’re taking visitors now.”

“Eh, I’m not sure cheer is the right word, but he gave me something to think about, that’s for sure.”

“Oh yeah? Like what?”

“I just need to focus on what’s next. And right now, I’ve got to focus on Chris Peacock.”

“Good idea! Put that stinky loss behind you and move forward.”

“All this time… I thought I was invincible. I thought I was indestructible. I lived in the world of the gods… or the champions… in this case. But I flew close to the sun and I’ve been brought back down to Earth.”

“Ooooh! Like Icarus!”

“Does everyone know this story but me?”

“Pretty popular story,” Jeremy shrugged.

“But it’s not like I’m the only one. Chris Peacock… look at him. If anyone has had a fall from grace in FWA, it’s not me, it’s him. Just a few months ago he was flying high. He had the World Title. He had the Tag Titles. He was literally on top of the world. But now look at him. He came crashing back down to Earth… harder than even I did. He lost his title. He lost the tag titles. He got completely owned by that punk Marshall.”

“But that makes him dangerous.”

“Just like it makes me dangerous.”

“We’re two guys… both of us needing this win… more than anything. We both need this F1 to get something back. For me… I want my North American Title back… for him… to get back to the land of the gods.”

“He wants the Grand Slam… because to him it’s another feather in his cap to his legacy.”

“But I can’t let that happen.”

“I have my own legacy to build. A legacy that won’t be ruined by one loss. A legacy of winning. And doing whatever it takes to get there. Because Chris Peacock is not a god. He is not indestructible. I’ve beat him before. Last year in the F1.”

“And I will do it again. Because I have to.”

Jeremy simply smiles and nods, now grabbing one of the chicken wings from the chicken box.

“And I think I know what I have to do…”

“Oh yeah? What’s that?” Jeremy asked with a gleeful curiosity.

“I gotta make a phone call.”
 

Mandalorian

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Chris Peacock in...

"A FRIEND OF A FRIEND, NOT A FRIEND OF OURS."




(please click Phil Leotardo for the promo)

FEBRUARY 5, 2024
DAZZLING DAVE’S RESTAURANT, BROOKLYN

“Look, I don’t give a fuck,” Chris said, emphatically. He marched towards the door of the restaurant in a fit of anger, “I’ve got enough of my own shit to deal with at the moment and watching him drink himself to death isn’t going to solve any of them. I’m fuckin’ out of here!”

To say that he had reached the end of his tether with his brother was something of an understatement. He was supposed to be preparing for his next F1 Climaxxx match with Halloween Knight, but again here he was cleaning up another of Drew’s messes.

“Chris - please!”

Chris allowed his hand to leave the door, delaying his exit. He heard desperate and frantic footsteps approaching him from behind. They belonged to Cindy, one of the waitresses at Dazzling Dave’s. After dropping out of college at Christmas, she started working at the restaurant as a means to placate her parents. Despite only recently entering the fold, she had quickly developed an affinity for the Peacocks and their customers.

Perhaps unwisely though, she grabbed Chris by his arm and attempted to pull him back into the restaurant. He immediately shimmied in an attempt to free himself.

“Cindy, I know you’re trying to help… but you need to get your hands off of me right now. This shit is between me and my brother and it's best that you don’t get involved, kid.”

“No, you need to fix this! He’s your brother. We can’t go on like this-”

“What’s all this ‘we’, Cindy? All due respect, but you don’t know dick about any of this, alright? I’ve had to put up with the jealousy, the holier than thou bullshit since you were floating around in your dad’s sack. I. AM. DONE!”

Again Chris attempted to leave, but again Cindy tried to physically prevent him from doing so. Gritting his teeth, Chris contemplated how long he was going to allow this to continue for. Customers were watching. The last thing he wanted anyone to bear witness to was someone disrespecting him and not suffering any consequences for doing so. He knew that would give everyone else carte blanche to do the same. Considering he was feeling rather unfulfilled on the respect side of things anyway, that was the last thing he wanted.

“I’m not going to move.”

“I’m not going to ask again. Let me leave.”

“No, I won’t-”

“Don’t make me do something that I’m going to regret.”

Chris assumed that the threat would garner the desired result. However, he was wrong. Cindy stood in the restaurant doorway with her arms folded. The expression on her face made it clear that she was being deathly serious. Chris balled his fist, actually considering whether he should forcibly move her out of the way. Instead, he grumbled and stood with his hands on his hips.

What Cindy wanted was a reconciliation between the twin brothers. The fact of the matter is that Chris had attempted to support Drew and help him overcome his addiction issues on multiple occasions. However, each attempt by him to do so only resulted in Drew plummeting further into the depths of the disease. What was best for both of them was some distance. Perhaps without Chris around, Drew could actually make some positive changes. As for Chris, pushing his brother’s issues out of sight and out of mind would likely contribute to better joy in the ring.

“Cindy, I need to go. It’s for the best. Now, please, will you let me leave?” Chris asked in a kind, but firm, voice, “Me being here with all of this other shit I’ve got going on isn’t helping anyone. Drew isn’t alone. He’s got you, and Max. I’ll ask Sonny and Rick to stop by as well-”

“Ugh,” groaned Cindy, with a tinge of jest. Both Diamond Dogs had made several passes at her in the limited interactions that she’d had with them, “Anything but that. I’ll let you go, as long as you promise not to tell those two to come here.”

“It’s a deal,” Chris said with a chuckle, “Look, tell Drew I’ll be back in Brooklyn after my next match. I want to come back home before Baxter in Tokyo as I’ll imagine I’ll need to straighten some shit out before going up against that fat fuck again.”

The two shared a laugh at Chris’s jibe at the North American Champion, but inside of himself, he knew the mammoth task that was waiting for him inside Korakuen Hall. Halloween Knight was first, though, and then Deathswitch with Alyster. Given his recent FWA record, he could ill afford to overlook any opponent, regardless of how academic his victory seemed to be on paper. Baxter would still be there after Seoul and Tsushima. Preparing for that match could wait. If it was going to mean anything, it would have to.

A bashful smile from Cindy was enough indication for Chris that she was prepared to let him leave. She then slinked away from the door and he patted her on the shoulder as he walked past her, the bell attached to the door ringing as he did so.

On the street, Chris’s thoughts turned to his upcoming match with Halloween Knight and how important it was that he did not let his disappointment and anger over losing to Xavien Marshall cost him once again. As he reached into his pocket for his headphones he was bumped from behind. With his eyebrow raised, Chris turned around to see two middle-aged men wearing tracksuits and white trainers.

“Can I help you?”

The man on the left nudged his friend and chuckled, “You hear that, Frankie? Probably so wiped out of his mind he doesn’t remember who we are.”

“OH! Drew, my boy!” the second man exclaimed as he cupped Chris’s cheek and gave it a couple of gentle slaps, “You drunk motherfucker, heh-heh. You got somethin’ for us this week?”

Chris rolled his eyes and motioned towards the restaurant, “If you’re looking for Drew, he’s the useless fuck passed out on the kitchen floor in there.”

The first man stepped closer to Chris with a look of scorn. Chris eyeballed him for a moment, not showing any sign of intimidation. After a few seconds, the man’s demeanour changed and he gave out another chuckle which sounded similar to some sort of stutter. Like the first man, he gave Chris a couple of playful slaps on the cheek, before pointing at him with both his index and pinky fingers, “Anyone ever told you you look exactly like him?”

“I get that a lot,” Chris responded before he nodded his head at the two men and walked onwards down the sidewalk. When he glanced back over his shoulder, he saw the men enter the restaurant. After hearing the bell ring once more, he continued along the sidewalk.
Chris Peacock in…

“A FRIEND OF A FRIEND,
NOT A FRIEND OF OURS.”

FEBRUARY 13, 2024
FBI RESIDENT AGENCY, BROOKLYN

This Tuesday promised to be different to any other Tuesday for Agent James Mando. It was with optimism that he entered the conference room where his colleagues were waiting for him. An entire wall was covered in black and white pictures of various men and women. They were a mix of mugshots and voyeuristic stills taken covertly from the back seat of issued service vehicles.

“Good morning, gentlemen,” Mando said as he dropped the pile of folders in his arms on the large table. Each was a royal blue with the letters ‘FBI’ emblazoned in yellow capital letters on the front. He took care to slide one to each of his three colleagues.

“You seem pretty chipper this morning, Mando,” one said with a smirk. Mando flashed a middle finger at Agent Stefano Serpentino. “It must be good news if you’re feeling this optimistic. Nothing else has seemed to work so far against this guy.”

The other two agents in the room grinned in a knowing way, almost joining in with the mockery of Agent Mando. Jimmy Monarca and Thomas Bolgia had worked on the task force with Mando and Serpentino for some time. Organised crime was running rife in Brooklyn, with one family exercising almost complete control over the territory. No one had been able to stand in their way. It was the responsibility of the men in this department and the people that they handled to put an end to their dominance.

“I’ve realised something. My approach to taking these guys down last year was all wrong. I put too much focus on him,” Mando said with emphasis. As he did so, he prodded the board behind him. His finger rested on the face which sat at the top of the twisted web of photographs. This man was old, balding and he grinned from ear to ear in his mugshot, and the text underneath the photo read, ‘GERRY MIGLIORE’.

“Migliore might be the guy in the top spot, but believe me, he’s not the real threat here.”

“Who is, then?” asked Bolgia.

Mando did not answer immediately. With his hands on his hips, he considered the gallery of faces in front of him. Countless people under the influence of Migliore, who were forced to abide by his rules and preferences. This was a crime family built on the ideals of friendship. It showed, too. Almost all of the people identified as belonging to the family seemed ecstatic to be a part of it. Smile after smile, even in the candid photos that were not taken by a police station photographer.

Finally Mando’s eyes rested on one photograph. Directly underneath the photo of Migliore, it portrayed a larger man. He stood out from everyone else because unlike everyone else, he was not smiling. Instead, he wore a scowl. His eyes were narrow and his frame wide. As intimidating as a man could look. His demeanour exuded dominance, so much so that just from looking at a black and white photograph, one could truly get a feel of how much of a mean fucker this guy could be.

‘IL BASTARDO - BRIAN GRASSO’

Mando felt it. Whilst this mean fucker was critical to his plans to bring down the Migliore family, he knew that it was no easy feat. Serpentino on the other hand, snorted. He rose from his seat and plucked the mugshot from the wall, “You don’t mean to tell me that you’re worried about this, Agent Mando? We… well, I… have pinched him before. It isn’t as impossible as you’re making it out to be.”

“You’re right. It isn’t impossible, but unlike last time, we’ve got to make this one stick. He’s still been out there, doing what he wants and consolidating the power of the Migliores. The guy controls North Brooklyn. If we can take him off the board, then that leaves Migliore vulnerable. We’ve got to nail him and nail him properly this time. Now’s our chance.”

As Mando attempted to get the photo back, Stefano pulled it away out of Mando’s reach. “Why now?”

Mando gestured to the board once again in response. He pointed to someone separate from the family tree. A classically handsome man, pictured smoking a cigarette on his way into a building - ‘MIKEY PARISI’.

“Grasso’s territory is under threat. Mikey Parisi used to hold it for a long time way back when, and rumour has it he’s planning a move to take it back. We can see how that plays out and bring Grasso in after that. He’s almost certain to do something he shouldn’t in order to make sure he doesn’t lose to Parisi. Every challenge to his territory this guy has overcome, he’s employed some shady shit to do it. This time, we don’t let him get away with it.”

“I don’t know. I’m not too sure,” Monarca spoke up, sitting uneasily in his chair, “You say this guy has pulled stuff before… but how come no one has been able to stop him yet?”

“I have.”

“He didn’t lose anything when you got him before… I think what Mando is saying is that we need to put an end to this guy for good. Make sure there’s no way he can come back from it.” Bolgia looked towards Mando for approval, and Mando nodded whilst swiping the picture of Grasso out of Serpentino’s hand.

“Exactly,” said Mando with some enthusiasm, “Even if Parisi is able to take North Brooklyn, what’s stopping Grasso from just taking it right back? I’m going to make it stick this time.”

As Mando stood triumphant in the conference room, the other three agents cast a look at one another. In unison, they turned to him, “How?”

Without saying a word, Mando grinned and removed the cork board from the wall and turned it around. On the reverse side were more photographs. Neither Serpentino, Monarca or Bolgia recognised the faces or names shown.

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FEBRUARY 14, 2024
JOHN F. KENNEDY AIRPORT

The high of turning his luck around on both Meltdown XXXVIII and Fallout 038 quickly eroded upon landing at JFK, when Chris was swiftly accosted by airport security and bundled into a stuffy room situated within the airport. All he had for company was a chair which wobbled each time he moved, a table and the handcuffs which shackled him to the latter. It had been almost half an hour since he had asked for a drink of water, which had not yet arrived.

Chris was no stranger to interrogations, which is what he presumed was waiting for him whenever someone did return to the room. His antics had frequently resulted in him becoming known to the law, although he had never been detained at an airport before. What troubled Chris the most as he was left alone with nothing but his thoughts was thinking about what had actually led him to being here. What had they picked him up for?

As the minutes passed he racked his brain for answers but continually drew blanks. Soon, his mind wandered to his next match against Bryan Baxter. Now that Halloween Knight had been dealt with and that tricky fucker Marshall was out of the picture, Chris felt that he could now afford himself the time to think about the Bastard. Everyone had learned by now what Bryan’s modus operandi was; beat his opponent up before the match, during it and then sometimes afterwards too depending on how he felt.

It was Chris’s hope that his pre-emptive strike on Meltdown had left him in good stead and he had shown Baxter that he was not to be taken lightly. Bastard had every reason to assume victory over Chris Peacock, given what happened in the previous F1 Climaxxx. Peacock took Baxter lightly - similarly to Marshall this time around - and it bit him in the ass. Both men had their eye on the final, and meeting Michelle there. The loser at Fight Night would see her one stage sooner.

Chris had begun to feel like a man who needed to live up to his reputation, but was struggling for ways to do it. Whether he was to face Michelle in the final or the semis, he felt like he needed to meet her expectations. She went out of her way to put him in his place before the tournament began. He knew deep down that she did it because she knows all too well the threat he poses. What better way to prove his credentials than doing what she had managed a year earlier?

Big Bryan Bastard losing was an almost-alien concept for the FWA. Michelle was one of two people to have beaten him. Chris needed to be number three. It was not going to be easy, though. Chris knew that he could not afford to view Baxter as merely a stepping stone. He lost against Baxter before because his focus was instead on Jeremy Best and he approached Baxter as an extension to him. He was acutely aware of Michelle’s presence looming over this match, but this could not be about her. Bryan Baxter was Chris Peacock’s sole focus.

The same could not be said for Baxter himself, though. Mike Parr was up on the docket before Peacock at Fight Night, so Chris was ready to benefit from that extra time to devise a plan to inflict a third singles defeat on the North American Champion. He felt full of purpose now that he’d been able to articulate his thoughts and align his focus. Such was a benefit of being locked in a room with no means of escaping. However, on the other side of the coin, he was locked in a room with no means of escaping. Putting his planning into action was impossible from such a position.

Minutes soon became hours, and mercifully, after five of them the sole door to the room swung open. Chris looked up from his slouched position in an exhausted daze to see a strikingly handsome man perched on the table and looking back down at him. He wore a dark blue windbreaker and sunglasses, which he removed and placed down on the desk. The man produced a paper cone full of water from behind his back and moved it closer to Chris, “Sorry you’ve been waiting so long, Mister Peacock. Here, drink.”

Due to his thirst being so strong, Chris forgot that he was handcuffed to the table and ended up slamming his forehead on the metal surface when met with resistance. Agent Mando then carefully placed the water in his hand and Chris drank some at an awkward angle. Despite the difficulty, feeling the ice cold liquid pour down his throat was almost orgasmic.

“Who are you, why am I here and what do you want?”

And so, Agent Mando spent the next forty-five minutes spinning Chris a yarn and bringing him up to date with the machinations of the Migliore crime family. Throughout, Chris wondered repeatedly what any of this had to do with him. That is until one of the photographs that Mando produced showed two men he recognised, “These two - I bumped into them outside my family’s restaurant. They were looking for my brother!”

“Frankie Mussachio and Michele Amici - they call him ‘The Major’. They’re both soldiers in the Migliore family and part of the reason why we brought you in today, Mister Peacock. I assume that you’re not aware, but your brother has been involved with these people for some time now. Mussachio and Amici collect ‘protection money’ from him every week. It’s a common extortion tactic used by the mob.”

Chris sat silently for a moment. He was initially concerned for Drew’s wellbeing, but he quickly began to seethe. The family restaurant had been invaded and sullied by these scumbags under Drew’s watch.

“Mister Peacock, I believe that you are in a unique position to help us with our investigations into the Migliores and Grasso in particular. Your occupation tells me that you know how to handle yourself. I think under the right circumstances, you can infiltrate Grasso’s crew and get me the kind of information I need to bring this asshole down. Once he’s out of the picture, your brother won’t be getting any trouble from him or the rest of them again.”

“No,” said Chris, firmly. He shook his head, “My brother got himself into this mess, he can get himself out of it.”

“It is imperative that you comply, Chris. Grasso is about to enter into a big fight with another wise guy and if he gets his hands dirty again, we’ll nail him. Think about your brother, Chris.”

The pleading to his emotions by the agent caused Chris to chuckle, “You’re good on the eyes, but you’re not as good at this as you think you are, Mando. I don’t give a shit what happens to my brother. He’s a liability and maybe these two guys should smack a little sense into him. Now, if that is all, would you kindly let me get the fuck out of here?”

Agent Mando stood up and winced, whilst adjusting his belt. He scratched his chin and then walked around the table until he was standing in front of Chris.

“You really should have cooperated on your own free will, Chris. There’s a reason you’re in handcuffs, and it is because you’ve been a very bad boy. Very… bad… indeed.”

“Look, I already said you’re a handsome guy, alright? Coming on a bit strong though. Maybe dial it back a little.”

The agent maintained his professionalism and ignored Chris’s attempts at flirting. Instead, he reached into his folder and pulled out several more pieces of paper and laid them out in front of Chris. He spoke in a stern voice with a hint of superiority, “I’ve got eyewitness accounts, CCTV footage and forensic evidence linking you to several federal and state crimes. Aggravated assault, possession of a deadly weapon, possession of narcotics with intent to supply… kidnapping… it's all here, Peacock. You forced Calvin Lucas to consume drugs at knifepoint in a crowded room full of people!”

Mando walked towards the door and rested his hand on the doorknob. He waited for Chris to look at him, but in his head, Peacock was remembering what he had done to Cage several weeks earlier. He was disappointed in his recklessness.

“Eyes here, Peacock! I’ve got narcotics detectives on the other side of this door and all I’ve got to do is give them the word and you can say goodbye to life as you know it.” Mando walked closer to Chris and leaned in near his face once more, speaking with a much softer tone of voice, “Unless, you decide to help me bring Grasso down.”

“You do make a good argument, Agent Mando. Prison, though… I’ve done that before and honestly, it wasn’t that bad. Three square meals, plenty of time to work out, regular sex and not having to put up with the bullshit brought on by my family or the FWA… don’t threaten me with a good time.”

As Chris sat smugly, he could tell he was getting under the agent’s skin. Mando had a lightbulb moment and proceeded with his next gambit, “It isn’t just you that’s had some brushes with the law. Your buddy, Alyster… I’ve got Australian authorities on the other end of the phone wanting us to extradite his ass because of a bar fight that he caused last year. He set a car on fire, Chris. Australia is very flammable… they don’t take too well to shit like that over there.”

Chris could tell that Mando had done his research. Of course, the one way to get Chris Peacock to do what you want is to tap into the melodrama and heavy feelings he shares with his best friend. Chris’s love and friendship for Alyster would compel him to do literally almost anything.

“Am I that predictable? You’re not going to get me like that. I’ve set a fire in Australia before, I know that if they wanted Alyster, they’d have him. Looks like you’re going to have to find someone else-”

“There is no one else, Chris. Only you. It is crucial that I take this guy down and prove myself to everyone who doubts me. I’ve got a dozen guys I can do this with but I know that none of them could do the job that I expect from you. You strike me as the kind of man who wants to prove himself, too.

“Answer this for me, Chris; are we similar in that regard? Is there anything else that gets your dick hard like proving your value?”

Indeed, Agent Mando had performed extensive research into the psyche of Chris Peacock. Chris thrived on establishing himself as better than someone else, exceeding expectations and showing his status as the best. He was a staunch egomaniac, after all. Mando fed that ego in the right way… and he had his man.



FEBRUARY 16, 2024
DAZZLING DAVE’S RESTAURANT, BROOKLYN

In the midst of the bustling and busy Friday night dinner service, barely anyone noticed the small ring of the bell attached to the door when Chris entered the restaurant. Seeing the restaurant thriving and packed, with guests huddled near the door as they waited for their table caused a warm and proud sensation in Chris’s stomach. He knew that his father would be proud of what the restaurant has become, and he realised that if the kitchen was busy it meant that Drew was not drunk beyond comprehension.

That realisation lingered for a moment, and Chris quickly reminded himself of why it was necessary for Drew to work so hard. He was still furious at his brother for allowing the mob to syphon off a portion of the restaurant’s profits every week. That was also exacerbated by the fact that Drew had not told him about the arrangement, either. It was the first real thought that he had given to the situation he found himself in two days earlier, when he was speaking with Agent Mando.

Quite correctly, Chris was focussed squarely on facing Bryan Baxter in Tokyo at Fight Night. Unlike his previous encounter with the Bastard, Chris was doing his best to concentrate solely on his opponent. The previous evening and some of the afternoon had been dedicated to watching back some of Baxter’s matches, including his own defeat just over a year ago. After hitting the gym, Chris had a hankering for some pasta, so of course there was only one place to go.

He quietly excused himself through the line of waiting diners, until he bumped straight into Cindy, causing her to drop her notepad with the most recent order she had taken scrawled on the front page, “You should watch where you’re going! I’m a paying customer, you know!”

“Kiss my ass, Chrissy boy,” Cindy said with a grin as she walked over to the POS system to input the order. Chris followed her and leaned on the counter. She was aware of his presence but continued looking at the screen as she engaged with him, “Besides, you don’t pay for anything here. Congratulations on your wins, by the way. We all huddled around a TV and watched both of them. Glad to see you heading back in the right direction again.”

Cindy spared a moment to smile at Chris as she delivered her thoughtful sentiments and he reciprocated. It bothered him that there was a clear connection between the two of them, because he was aware of how it would look if anything happened there. Not only was he fourteen years older than her, but given their respective positions in the restaurant hierarchy, Chris was acutely aware of how a relationship could be perceived. He cared for Cindy, though. Despite his current disdain towards Drew, Chris was pleased that there was someone trustworthy there to keep an eye on him.

The stake that the Grasso crew of the Migliore family had in the restaurant meant that the time for trusting Drew to act in the restaurant and the family’s best interests was passed. With Cindy at the restaurant, it was just another person he cared about in danger with those people frequenting the place on a regular basis.

He realised that he had not offered a verbal response to Cindy’s kind comments, “Sorry, just got a lot going on at the moment. Thank you, Cindy. It feels good to be on the up again. It had been a while.” This time Cindy did not immediately answer as she was still inputting the table’s order in the system.

“Speaking of being sorry, I didn’t mean to be a dick a couple of weeks ago. With all of Drew’s bullshit and things going on in the fed, things got a bit too much for me. I didn’t mean to take any of that out on you. I’m really sorry.”

Cindy laughed, “Chris Peacock apologises for something. Didn’t have that one on my bingo card for tonight. In all seriousness, though, it’s fine. Sometimes things don’t work out how we want them to, and it is frustrating,” she said in a reassuring voice. She looked away from the screen once more and into Chris’s eyes. He felt her place her hand on his wrist and the instant she did so, it was if his heart stopped momentarily. “If you ever need to talk, just know that I’m here for you.”

She smiled in a comforting way which drew out the kindness in her eyes. They were a blend of green and hazel, almost perfectly complimenting her long dark brown hair which looked black in certain lighting. Chris felt as if a lion was roaring inside of his chest, but he remembered the obvious drawbacks of pursuing her for anything further than a completely platonic relationship. He smiled back and subtly slid his arm out from underneath his hand.

“I’m gonna hit the kitchen and whip myself something up. I think it is a carbonara night!”

“You know, you could help your brother out if you’re going in there. We’re slammed… just a thought, you know.”

Chris raised his eyebrows as he slinked away towards the kitchen. With one hand on the door, he stopped when he heard the bell at the entrance ring once more. The huddle of customers parted as two men barged through. Chris’s stomach sank as he recognised them as the two men he had encountered on the street two weeks earlier - who he now knew as Frankie Mussachio and Michele Amici.

In the same tracksuits as they wore in their previous encounter with Chris, the two men made a beeline for Cindy. Chris watched as she greeted them kindly, and Mussachio pointed with his index and pinky finger for her to go to the kitchen. It must have been so Drew could emerge and pay them their “protection money”. Cindy gave a polite smile - a true professional at her craft - and turned to retrieve Drew.

As she did so, Frankie reached forward and helped himself to a handful of her ass. Cindy froze and shuddered as the two much older men laughed between themselves. She shook slightly whilst walking towards Chris, who brushed past her. The look of rage on Chris’s face made it clear that he was not prepared to take this idly, “Chris! Don’t! Just leave it!”

They recognised Chris as he approached them, “Ey! It’s Mister Look-A-Like! How’s that brother of yours? Surprised you get anything done around here with a piece of ass like that walkin’ around.”

“Like a grapefruit. Heh-heh,” Frankie chimed in after his handsy display, making a squeezing motion with his hand. The two men laughed at their misogyny, but not for long, as Chris grabbed the top plate from the stack on the counter next to him and struck Mussachio in the face with it. It broke on his nose, causing him to fall to the ground with a deep gash across his face from the sharp edge of the ceramic.

“OOOOOOOOOOOOOOH!” Amici screamed and he tried to throw a punch at Chris, but he blocked it. Chris then bounced his head off of the counter and escorted towards the door through the crowd of people, who were shocked by what they were seeing. A woman screamed.

“Out of the way,” Chris said in a haste. He motioned towards the door, “Hold that open… GET OUTTA HERE!”

Chris turned around, and Frankie was back up. A punch connected with Chris’s face, but he managed to catch Frankie’s fist when he went for a follow up. He bent the mobster’s wrist back and got close to him. “Next time, keep your fuckin’ hands to your fuckin’ self. Now get the fuck out of my restaurant you fuckin’ mutt.”

Frankie didn’t need a second invitation and he scurried out of the open door. He and Amici regrouped before scurrying away into the distance and into their vehicle. Chris worked his way back through the appreciative crowd of people and found Cindy, who was crying next to the kitchen. He put aside his hang ups over them for a moment, putting his arm around her.

“They’re gone. There’s nothing to worry about anymore. I’m sorry that happened to you - hey, there I go apologising again. Not quite sure what has gotten into me!”

The attempt at levity seemed to work, as Chris saw Cindy look up at him with a smile. She wiped the tears from her eyes and hugged him. He patted her on the back and nodded at her in a way to tell her that it was all going to be okay. She sniffled into an old piece of tissue which she had kept safe in her apron, “Chris, those guys… they’re going to come back. They always do. You didn’t need to do that. They work for a really bad man, Drew said. They might try to find you, now.”

Nothing that Cindy said was incorrect. Chris knew that he had poked the bear now and that he needed to tread carefully in light of the potential consequences for acting out in such a manner. There was no doubt that he would be on Grasso’s radar now. However, if he was to go along with Mando’s plan, that is exactly where he needed to be.

“I’m banking on it, Cindy.”
DATE UNKNOWN
PLACE UNKNOWN, LOOKS LIKE THE RESTAURANT

It was late. Or at least it seemed like it was late. Chris sat alone at a booth in the restaurant. Alone in almost every sense, as he seemed to be the only patron. The plate in front of him was covered in spaghetti, but instead of a fork in his hand was just more spaghetti. Nonetheless, he was able to use the hand spaghetti to extract the plate spaghetti from the plate spaghetti and send it into his mouth.

An undetermined amount of time passed. Chris still sat at the booth, but now his plate was covered in forks. He swallowed one without issue. A door swung open - it was from the kitchen. Brian Grasso emerged from the kitchen and walked towards Chris at the booth. Whilst Chris was completely nonplussed by his appearance, anyone else would have been as he was adorning nothing but a smock, not too dissimilar to the one he usually saw Cindy and the other waitresses wearing.

“Everything okay with the food?”

Chris nodded as he chewed on the fork in his mouth. Without thinking, he did something very embarrassing by following up with, “Great. You?”

There was no chance for him to experience the awkwardness as when he looked up Grasso was gone and Cindy stood in his place, wearing the same outfit. It looked much better on her. After what seemed like a second, he was sitting next to Cindy at the restaurant bar, and the two of them were laughing. Chris sipped on his drink - a pornstar martini - and then stood up.

He extended a hand towards Cindy and invited her to join him in a small clearing in between the tables. She shook her head, but Chris urged her, “Come on… dance with me.”

As Chris quickly found himself spinning Cindy around on the spot and music filled the restaurant.

“It’s murder on the dancefloor…”

The two brought their bodies close to one another’s, and effortlessly moved along with the music, as if they had rehearsed this performance thousands of times before. It was seamless how they were able to transition from one move to the next without missing a step. Dancing was like second nature to Chris, and he looked down at Cindy’s feet to see that she was keeping up without any trouble whatsoever.

The restaurant interior morphed around them and soon they found themselves inside a giant martini glass. Orange liquid surrounded them in the giant-sized pornstar martini and the two of them resumed their dancing on the slice of passionfruit which floated on the surface of the drink. Chris took a moment to examine Cindy’s footwork once more, however when he looked up, he saw that he was dancing with Brian Grasso.

Again, this did not worry Chris. Grasso leaned into his ear, “Everything okay with the food?”

Chris did not answer. Brian still wore the waitress apparel and Peacock was surprised to see that he also could keep up with Chris when it came to the dancing. A wave crashed inside the giant glass and this caused the passionfruit slice to tilt along with the motion of the liquid. It caused Chris to fall forwards onto his partner, which was once again Cindy. They looked into each other’s eyes and then passionately kissed.

FEBRUARY 17, 2024
CHRIS PEACOCK’S BEDROOM, BROOKLYN

“What the fuck is he doin’?” asked Amici. He was responsible for watching over Chris as he slept whilst Frankie Mussachio rifled through Chris’s wardrobe in the background. The mobster was confused to see Chris groaning and moaning in his sleep, whilst his entire body slowly gyrated into his mattress and duvet. The scene caused Amici to feel uncomfortable, “You done back there? I don’t like this, I wanna wake him up, Frankie.”

Frankie tossed aside an empty shoebox and then joined his friend. He stood over Peacock with his hands on his hips. The sliver of light coming through the crack in the curtains allowed the plaster across his nose to be seen. “Yeah, let’s wake him up and take him to the boss. Motherfucker hit me with a plate - I got the first shot, you hear?”

There was no discourse from Amici. Frankie pulled out a crowbar from his jacket and lined it up, striking Chris on the ribs and instantly waking him up. Amici used his hands to cover Chris’s mouth to prevent anyone from becoming alerted by the noise. As Chris kicked out to fight them off, he fell from the bed and then both Mussachio and Amici stomped on his body on the bedroom floor. They probably were not supposed to do as much of a number on Chris as they did, but they made sure they were able to render him unconscious and therefore easy to drag out of the apartment into the trunk of a waiting car, which sped off into the night…

FEBRUARY 18, 2024
UNDISCLOSED LOCATION, BROOKLYN

All Chris could stifle was a groan as he regained consciousness. Before he had even opened his eyes, he knew that he had been tied up. The unyielding hard material around his wrists, rendering him unable to separate them could only be zip ties. The chair he was affixed to by his ankles was a steel folding one, not too dissimilar from the kinds that he is familiar with as part and parcel of being a professional wrestler. However they had used duct tape for his ankles, and across his mouth to prevent him from talking. His first initial thought was to worry about how much it was going to hurt to remove the tape across his face and whether his moustache would be fully intact after doing so.

Without trying to give away the fact that he was aware of his surroundings, he kept his eyes closed and listened to the conversation happening around him. The two voices were ones he recognised pretty easily as belonging to Mussachio and Amici, “You know when the boss is gonna be here?”

“Ey, remember… B ain’t the boss, Frankie. Gerry Miglione? He’s the boss of the family.”

“Yeah I know,” Frankie said, pausing for a moment, “But think about it. Brian is the guy that’s done all of the heavy liftin’ this whole time. Look at how long he’s held North Brooklyn for. This putz Mikey Parisi ain’t gonna do shit to him, trust me. Just another guy to fall by the wayside. Gerry might be boss in name, but come on, B is the real threat here and the guy keepin’ this shit goin’.”

Before Amici could respond to either agree or disagree with Frankie’s assertions, Chris heard the door open and close, and a third voice spoke immediately.

“I’m keepin’ what goin’?”

Chris realised that the person who had entered the room was none other than Brian Grasso.

“Nothin’, B. Just talking about that motherless fuck Parisi. We ain’t got nothin’ to worry about there, if you ask me.”

“Time will tell.”

Things went silent between everyone as the caporegime meandered around the room for a minute or so, possibly sizing Chris up. Most evident was Grasso’s heavy breathing, which Chris assumed must be due to his weight. It was clear that his days of sneaking up on anyone were long gone as his animalistic huffing would be a dead giveaway to any target. “This the guy from the restaurant?”

“That’s him, B. He’s the brother of our guy over there. The drunk-”

“It’s a disease, got it? The guy might be a fuckin’ bum, but it’s not his fault. Why don’t you worry a little less about what some civilian does in his spare time and more about how this piece of crap took you both out on his own, huh? All good and well you writin’ off Parisi, but you better back it up.”

There was silence from both of Grasso’s men. Whatever was about to go down between Grasso and Parisi, it seemed that Grasso was definitely taking it seriously. “Look, wake him up. I wanna talk to him.”

Before Chris even had a chance to do anything to prepare himself, he was struck on the side of the head by a fist. He groaned and opened his eyes to see the three men standing in front of him. They were in a warehouse of some description but Chris had no idea where. From the pitch black sky visible through the upper windows, he surmised that it was in the early hours of the morning.

“Don’t look up there. Look at me,” Grasso said whilst pointing to himself. Chris diverted his eyes to the large man, who was even more rotund in real life than in the pictures and his crazy dream.

“You probably know who I am by now, and if you do, you know that I wouldn’t want to be you right now.”

From the satisfied smirk on his face and the more than comfortable body language, Chris was immediately able to tell that Grasso enjoyed the fact that Chris was helpless. A completely submissive opponent, thanks to the work of his henchmen. Chris deduced just from looking at him that Brian Grasso was a man who thrived on holding power over his adversaries and it didn’t matter to him by which means he attained it.

“You laid your hands on these guys. These are MY men. Not that it’s any of your business, but these are made men. That means you don’t get to pull shit like that and expect to live to tell the tale, got that?” Chris nodded in understanding, and he grimaced under the tape whilst he considered what was going to happen to him next. Grasso cracked a small smile - it was scary how easily he could portray a friendly, caring figure but be something completely different. “If you’re going to put your hands on my men and disrespect this thing by not playing by the rules, then you’re disrespecting me and everyone who came before. I can’t allow that, I don’t care who the fuck you are.”

Despite his size, Grasso was able to connect with an excruciatingly strong punch to Chris’s jaw. It felt like it had dislocated or perhaps even detached entirely. Chris could tell that Grasso was not immune to the power of the punch either, as he shook his hand out after striking Chris. Grasso paced around the room, exchanging eye contact with his subordinates and gauging what their reactions were to Chris.

He paused on Frankie Mussachio. The older Mussachio did his best to hide his anger as his younger caporegime held his face with one hand by the chin in order to get a better look at the cut across his nose. Grasso cracked another smile, “He really did a fuckin’ number on you, huh?”

The smile faded and a flicker of disappointment descended over Grasso’s face for a moment. Luckily, Frankie was not perceptive enough to notice it. Grasso retook his seat opposite Chris and slapped him on the cheek a couple of times to ensure that he was still paying attention. “Stay with us, Chris. There’s a lot we gotta talk about still. Now, I’ve got to think about what to do with you. What you did was very bad, but it showed me something that I didn’t expect to see fall at my feet like this. You’ve got some set of balls on you, kid.”

Being referred to as a kid as a fully grown, thirty-seven year old man both confused and annoyed Chris. Especially as Grasso was telling him things that he already knew. Anyone who knew Chris reasonably well could tell you that there is very little he was intimidated by. This was not his first time being tied to a chair or held captive - not even including his FBI detainment earlier in the week.

“What I guess I’m saying is, that I can use you. I’m putting you to work out on the streets. There’s a war comin’, and I need people out there… soldiers that I can trust to get the job done and not fuck it up.”

It was at this moment that Chris decided that he would divert from placating Mando to actively helping him take Grasso and his goons down. Not only had Mando’s plan succeeded as Chris was already becoming ingratiated with Grasso personally, but he did not take well to people wishing to exercise control over him. He could have called Mando’s bluff and told him where to stick his mission, but there was no reasoning with Grasso, Chris could tell.

Grasso rose to his feet and ruffled Chris’s hair - something else that he despised other people doing to him since he was a child - and made for the exit. He stopped on his way out though, as if an idea had struck him. He pulled the cigar out of his front jacket pocket and held it up near his mouth before addressing Chris, “Don’t confuse this for a pass, though. I’m still taxing you for pain and suffering caused to my dear friend Frankie here. Call it another two points added to your brother’s kick and you’re gonna give me a taste from this wrestling crap. You got that?”

Chris solemnly and silently nodded his head whilst looking in Grasso’s eyes. The smug smirk on his face was dying to be wiped off, and Chris felt glad that he would be able to contribute to it.

“Good. There’s something I want you to take care of for me. Tomorrow night. Blue Comet Video Dome in Queens, seven thirty. Don’t make me come lookin’ for you.”

Grasso left. Both Mussachio and Amici lingered for a while longer, and Frankie was in no rush to release Chris from his binds by slicing the zip ties with a knife. Eventually he did, and he slapped Chris across the face in a playful manner. He somehow managed to let out a laughing noise whilst keeping an entirely straight face, “Heh-heh.”

As the two crew members left, Chris kept an eye on them in order to avoid any surprises. He was frustrated that Mando had allowed him to dive this far into this kind of life, and whether it was even still possible to resume his FWA commitments if he was now going to be leading it. But at the same time, the allure of being at least partially responsible for bringing Grasso down was irresistible for the man who had conquered the disco dancing and wrestling worlds. This hunger for success, even when not completely motivated to attain it, is why Chris Peacock has excelled at anything he has turned his hand to.

He decided that he would partake in whatever it was that Grasso had in store for him at the ‘Blue Comet Video Dome’ in Queens the following night. A chance to get closer and more face time with Grasso was a chance to study his character more and then identify any weaknesses to exploit. Looking for weaknesses to take advantage of - he was even beginning to think like a wise guy now. He used his now-free hand to tear the duct tape from his mouth and screamed loudly as parts of his moustache came with it.
FEBRUARY 19, 2024
BLUE COMET VIDEO DOME, QUEENS

Traditionally, Chris was unhappy to be in another New York borough other than Brooklyn. Queens and the others just lacked something compared to his home area. However, this was a different kind of visit to Queens - he was excited for it. His chance for more exposure to Grasso and opportunities to formulate his plan to bring him down from the inside.

The Blue Comet Video Dome was located on a relatively quiet street, and Chris leaned against the wall window of a launderette a few buildings down as he waited for Grasso to meet him. The sign erected from the side of the video store depicted a blue video cassette being shot through a space-like background with the letters ‘BCVD’ written underneath it. When he walked past the store as part of a minor reconnaissance, he caught a glimpse inside and realised that this was not a regular video store. He could have sworn he saw a DVD with Gabrielle splashed across the front cover on one of the shelves.

He did not actually know why he was in Queens or what Grasso wanted him to do. Checking his phone, he saw that it was 7:27. Grasso didn’t strike him as the kind of man who stuck to a rigid schedule as there would be few who would dare question him if he was not punctual to this or any other activity he and his cronies engaged in. He was the man in charge, even if not in name, per Frankie.

It was therefore not a surprise to Chris when a maroon SUV pulled up next to him on the road at 7:52. The passenger-side window rolled down and Chris saw Grasso in the driver’s seat. He beckoned for Chris to join him in the car, which Peacock did. Once Chris had closed the door, Grasso pressed a button on the dashboard to lock them both inside.

As expected, there was no apology from Grasso for his tardiness, and it was straight to business, “Good. You’re here. Now, listen up. I need you to collect from the guy who runs that store. He and his partner are into us for quite a lot and well, after running into me, let’s just say his partner isn’t on the scene anymore.”

The implication of what happened to the business partner caused Chris to look slightly worried for a moment. He had momentarily forgotten that the man he was locked in a car with was a homicidal psychopath who’d not hesitate to make him disappear if he learned of his involvement with the FBI. Grasso sensed his concern and snorted, cracking a small smile.

“He skipped town, Chrissy. We didn’t hurt him, but if he ever does decide to show his face again then we’ll make sure to remind him of his obligations to us.”

That did little to reassure Chris. Despite this, Grasso continued, “Anyway, this guy ran off and left his partner in the lurch. That isn’t our problem though. As far as we’re concerned, we’ve still got a job to do. So what I want is for you to head on in there and straighten things out. Here, you’ll need this.”

Chris watched as Grasso pulled out a black pistol and placed it on the armrest in between them. Together they looked at the gun for a few seconds, before Chris tentatively picked it up and placed it in his waistband underneath his jacket and shirt. He took a deep breath as the situation was becoming very real to him very quickly, but Grasso put a hand on his shoulder.

“Look, you don’t have to actually shoot him unless completely necessary. It’s an intimidation tactic. Once he sees that, you won’t have any trouble. Fire a warning shot or two at the ceiling if he’s not pissed his pants yet. Better yet, take one of those dildos they got in there and use your imagination. Got that?” Grasso waited for Chris to nod in response, “Good, now what the fuck are you waitin’ for? Get to work! GO!”

The doors unlocked and Chris quickly exited the vehicle. When he was back on the pavement, he turned back to Grasso who was stoically watching. Grasso leaned out of his window, “OH! His name is Kenny, by the way!”

Armed with that information and an actual fucking gun, Chris entered Blue Comet Video Dome. He was inside for a total of two minutes and forty-two seconds. Grasso grinned from his SUV as he heard a total of two gunshots, some very loud screaming and then Chris emerging from the video store with the gun in one hand and a carrier back full of cash in the other. Chris entered the car and Grasso locked the doors once again.

Chris breathed heavily, high on the adrenaline of the successful bust. He placed the gun back on the arm rest and Grasso put it away, and then he handed over the cash. He wondered how Grasso and men like him could do that. He considered himself someone unafraid to maim or injure others, but that was something new. It was pure intimidation and something that Chris had never been able to exude before, despite his temperament and achievements in a wrestling ring.

“Looks like it's all here. Very good work, Chrissy!” Grasso’s demeanour changed entirely as he took Chris’s head under his arm and ruffled his hair once more, “The kid’s a natural!”

With the adrenaline wearing off slightly, Chris allowed himself a pleased smile. He could see why Grasso operated in such a way. The high of having that much power was addictive. The closest thing he could think of was how he felt when he was World Champion. It was a feeling that he missed.

“I wanted to talk to you about what happened last night… in the warehouse. I know that I was an asshole to you, but that’s how it needed to be in front of those two guys,” Grasso said, making sure to look directly into Chris’s eyes. Chris was surprised to learn of this admission from Grasso. “The thing is, in this thing of ours, we take the ideals of friendship and family very seriously.”

“The job of a friend or someone you consider family is to raise you up. Help you become a better person. That’s what Gerry Migliore did for me and that’s what I’m doing for Frankie and Michele. They work for me, so I’ve got a responsibility to protect them, and their interests.

“That’s why I had to give you the high colonic yesterday after you took shots at them. We look after our own. Not like that coward from that video store who ducked out on his partner.”

These words resonated with Chris, and he pondered whether he had done a good enough job in looking out for his own. Was he too quick to give up on his brother? The breaking point for him wanting to try to help Drew was too low, he thought. Guilt filled him and he was only snapped out of the momentary glum by a light punch to the shoulder by Grasso.

“You’re worried about your brother. I get that. Family is important. Look, I’ll get the guys to lay off him. You’re with us now. We need to get you earning, not the opposite.”

Chris actually felt more guilty once he realised that Grasso believed he attacked the guys in the restaurant because of Drew, when in reality, it was because one of them groped the girl he liked and he saw this as a sign of disrespect towards him. Deep in his thoughts, he failed to notice Grasso pulling out some of the notes that Chris had taken from the video dome.

“Here,” Grasso said as he presented them to Chris, “Your cut of the take. I’ve taken the tax from it already and I’ll give it to Frankie for you. Consider that debt settled.”

“Thank you. You didn’t have to-”

“Did you not listen to what I just fuckin’ said? We look after our own. You’re with us now. You’re Italian, right?”

“Half, on my mother’s side.”

“That’s good enough for me.”

The two sat in silence as Grasso pulled away from the video store. Flashing blue lights shone in the distance, undoubtedly as a result of the scene caused by Chris inside. Grasso did not seem bothered by this and casually drove away from the scene. Once they were far enough away from the scene of the crime, Chris felt like it was a good time to try and learn a bit more about Grasso as he had planned.

“What’s going on with this Parisi guy, then? I keep hearing that name come up… you got some beef there or something?”

Grasso quickly darted his head at Chris in disbelief that he would even dare ask something like that unprompted and in such a brazen manner. From his comfort when in control and relative panic when challenged, Chris knew that Grasso was someone unable to adapt when a situation called for it. That is why it was so necessary for him to be in control at all times.

Eventually, Grasso calmed himself down following the abrupt shock and let out a light chuckle, “Some balls on you, kid. Where do you get off askin’ shit like that, huh? Mikey Parisi… he controlled North Brooklyn for a long time. He’s synonymous with the place. People say that everything going on there is because of him and the work he put in. He tried taking it back from me last year, but me and the guys were ready.”

“We’ll be ready again when he makes his next move. I don’t plan on giving anything up anytime soon, but if it did come crashing down around me, it won’t be at the hands of Mikey Parisi.”

Silently, Chris agreed. Grasso caught this and a grin formed across his face as he believed to have another ally to his cause for his fight with Parisi and anyone else to come in the future. What he didn’t know was that it was Chris Peacock that was destined to take everything from him. Grasso believed that he held all the cards, insulated from danger by his friends and unable to be touched. He was wrong, and Chris was going to prove it. Not anyone else. Him.
FEBRUARY 22, 2024
DAZZLING DAVE’S RESTAURANT, BROOKLYN

Despite it being such a late hour on a Thursday night, the restaurant was full to the brim with people standing and sitting in loud conversation. Chris was surprised to see how popular the FWA viewing parties were at the restaurant with the locals, given he had never been able to attend one himself. What was different about this one than all of the others was that Chris was not who the occupants of the restaurant were rooting for.

When it came to the North American Showdown, Mike Parr was the clear fan favourite inside Dazzling Dave’s. These were Chris Peacock’s people, and they weren’t prepared to forgive Big Bryan Bastard for his actions against Chris and his friends. There was the loss to Baxter in the previous F1 Climaxxx and the Friendship Wrestling Alliance taking the FWA World Championship from Alyster, not to mention everything they had done to Krash.

Funnily enough, the only person in the entire joint actually cheering for the Bastard was Chris Peacock himself. Winning the F1 Climaxxx and becoming the North American Champion to get one over Michelle was his aim, but he would be lying if he said he did not want to be the one to personally relieve Baxter of the belt through winning the competition.

With just over an hour to go until the match was about to begin, Chris checked his phone and saw that he had received a text from Agent Mando, informing him that he was on the way to the restaurant. Chris had not heard from Grasso or anyone else in the crew for the entire day, nor had he seen Grasso since he hit up the video store.

As he sat alone at a table in the restaurant, he pondered what could have been happening to everyone due to the radio silence, but his thoughts were broken up by some music starting to play through the speakers in the restaurant;

“Just a small town girl, livin’ in a lonely world.
She took the midnight train, going anywhere.”

The bell at the entrance rang, and Chris watched as Agent Mando strode through the door. He was just as good looking as Chris remembered him to be in their first meeting. It did not take long for him to find Chris and join him at his table.

“Just a city boy, born and raised in south Detroit.
He took the midnight train, going anywhere.”

“What brings you here then? Wanna watch the match?”

“Bad news, I’m afraid, Chris,” Mando said as he removed his coat and set it down next to him. He looked across at him with a straight face, but his facade cracked slightly. He was clearly frustrated about something, “Parisi got there first… Grasso’s gone. His whole crew, too.”

“A singer in a smokey room.
A smell of wine and cheap perfume.
For a smile they can share the night.
It goes on and on and on and on…”

It was very difficult for Chris to envisage Brian Grasso losing. He did not think the man who possessed such strong controlling tendencies would have allowed something like that to happen to him, “How?”

“It all came to a head. Parisi had grown tired of Grasso bullying people in order to keep the territory he believed was his. Something had to give… and it was Grasso’s heart. You believe that? He had a fuckin’ heart attack at the stand off.”

Despite the morbid situation, both men found a bit of amusement in this.

“Strangers waitin' up and down the boulevard.
Their shadows searchin' in the night.
Streetlights, people. Livin' just to find emotion.
Hidin', somewhere in the night.”

“Ain’t that a fucking bitch.”

“I know. I feel it too. I know how you feel. I wanted to be the one to do it as well. But you’ve gotta give Parisi credit.”

“Yeah… you’re right.”

“Workin' hard to get my fill.
Everybody wants a thrill.
Payin' anything to roll the dice,
Just one more time.”

Chris was frustrated with the outcome of his time spent with Grasso and the Migliore family - it wasn’t supposed to end like this. He could not bring himself to say anything and sat with his hands clasped together, unsure of what to do with himself.
“Some'll win, some will lose.
Some are born to sing the blues.
Whoa, the movie never ends.
It goes on and on and on and on…”

The silence was broken by Cindy arriving at the table with two men, in the same positive mood that she always takes when dealing with customers. In her hand was a tray of Italian cured meats, which she lowered towards the table, “Here you go, guys. Some prosciutto and gabagool-”

“Gabagool? Over here…” Mando said, motioning in front of him. Cindy set the tray down in the middle of the table and smiled at Chris as she walked away, gliding her fingers on his shoulder as she did so.

“Strangers waitin' up and down the boulevard.
Their shadows searchin' in the night.
Streetlights, people. Livin' just to find emotion.
Hidin', somewhere in the night.”

Firm in their understanding and shared disappointment, Chris and Agent Mando sat in silence as both helped themselves to the cured meats on the table. There was an occasional groan from both men as they enjoyed the capicola and prosciutto.

Chris looked around at some of the other patrons in the restaurant as he ate; he saw a man in a wheelchair holding both of his dogs on a lead. Both wore sparkling diamond collars. A young boy wore a wrestling mask, and he pulled his father towards the framed pictures of the wrestling Peacocks on one of the walls - the father being the owner of a tremendously styled moustache. A punk girl sat with her back to the wall whilst scrolling through her phone, looking completely uninterested.

“Don't stop believin’!
Hold on to that feelin'!”

The bell at the restaurant entrance rang once more.

“Streetlights, people.”

Chris looked up.

“DON’T STOP-”
U8h_ZOeNWnXMiejCfmbGp_KkF9WPQeMArVImYOyRSQk3EvG7bwHj4CaENxWMDGvndNj2R3hAVjuMWclgJiRvU7CIP_XI4yB52ECSFy08rgSw-CMXyfDmhz_KfeV1rIKLGVvu8hcejIYC4Pzp6_etl6Y

“SORRY!” was the shout from a loud voice in the kitchen after the entire restaurant was plunged into darkness once people had calmed down. Everyone groaned as the lighting returned to normal, the televisions came back to life and the music continued to play in the background. Drew shouted from the kitchen once more, “CINDY! I shorted the microwave again… fuckin’ thing.”

The atmosphere in the restaurant returned to what it was pre-powercut and Chris looked back once more at Agent Mando, who had a slice of prosciutto hanging from his mouth which he quickly vacuumed up, “You sure you don’t wanna stay and watch the match with us?”

Considering the offer, Mando checked his phone but his eyes bulged when he saw the notification on the device. Quickly, he rose to his feet and started putting his coat on. In his haste he choked on a piece of meat.

“Woah, what’s the rush? Grasso’s gone, right?”

“Unfortunately for me, there’s more than one bad guy in the world. Bad girl, in this case. You know there’s a Dutch mafia? I work with a guy - Serpentino - he’s obsessed with them. They’ve been causing me some problems for a while now, but with Grasso out of the picture, we can devote the resources we need to to take them down for good.”

Mando extended his hand to Chris, who rose to his feet to shake it, “Thank you, Chris. I’ve been going through a lot lately. It isn’t often I get to work with someone who just seems to get me, you know? I feel like we’ve got a lot in common.”

“Who’s trying to fuck who here, huh? Get outta here you piece of ass.”

The two shared a laugh and Chris watched Mando leave, with the bell tinkling once more as he opened the door to exit. He exhaled and took his seat at the table once more as it was time for the match to begin.

An hour and five minutes passed. Chris remained deathly silent the entire time, despite the pandemonium and the excitement around him, especially when the match was over and Mike Parr was crowned the North American Champion for the fifth time, ending Bryan Baxter’s gargantuan reign. People attempted to celebrate with him, but it was clear to them that this was not a time for jubilation for Chris Peacock.

Chris remained in his seat for some time after the customers had petered out - the celebrations carried on into the night and onto the streets of Brooklyn. Not being the one to end Baxter’s reign stung. He thought about what happened at the conclusion between Baxter and Parr. Never did he think that Baxter would refuse the help of his allies, especially when they were so pivotal in most of his previous defences.

After all of his worries over not living up to Michelle’s expectations, Chris found himself being annoyed that the Bastard failed to live up to his own. That was not the man that Chris Peacock had been preparing to face since the pools were announced. That was not the man who defeated Chris in the pool stages of the previous tournament. That was not Big Bryan Bastard.

The similarities between Baxter and Brian Grasso were not lost on Chris. He had expected to be facing two similar animals in the sense that both were killers and would not hesitate to extinguish him, without batting an eyelid. They were still similar, insofar as that both had lost themselves. Grasso losing his heart and his balls at a crucial moment was not something he expected from a seasoned boss.

Baxter agreeing to an extra five minutes and then rejecting help was very out of character for the man he had never defeated before. It was because of this fact that he did view Baxter as the main driving force and most dangerous person in the Friendship Wrestling Alliance, despite Jeremy Best being the FWA World Champion. Because of all of this he ensured not to overlook Baxter this time around.

“Everything okay with the food?”

Cindy’s voice scared Chris for several reasons. Firstly, he thought that he was alone and it made him jump and secondly because he was worried that it was actually Brian Grasso from his dream. His relief was palpable when he discovered it was in fact the attractive young waitress who he shared a mutual crush with.

“Sorry, I thought I was dreaming for a second. What are you still doing here? Your shift finished an hour ago?”

“I wanted to get started on the dishes and well, to make sure you were okay,” she said in a caring tone, “I know that wasn’t the result you wanted tonight.”

There was no response from Chris other than a dejected and forced smile. She nudged him, causing him to look up at her, “Hey, no reason not to go out there at Fight Night and kick his ass still… you know he’s going to want to take it all out on you.”

Chris nodded once more. He slowly stood up and started walking towards the exit of the restaurant, “Come on. Let me walk you home.”

“Wait a minute,” Cindy said, not following him. He turned around and faced her once more. She extended her arm towards him, “I never got to properly thank you for what you did to those guys. How about I treat you to a dance?”

With a smile, Chris walked towards her. Just as he had done so in his dream, he held her body close and then spun her around on the spot.

Music played in his head as he watched her spin. Around and around she went.

The dance never ends.

“You woke up this morning. Got yourself a gun.
Mama always said you’d be, the chosen one.”


 

The Golden One

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Despite the secession of Wild Jerry from The Menage and PacMan Bert's apparent sojourn away from the group, the vibes in the group are high. Yes, the Magic School Bus has yet to be fixed -- it is being repaired in an automobile shop in south Texas -- but the group has cobbled together enough money to travel via public transportation and hitchhiking. Also, the last time the FWA world saw XYZ, he was ending his losing streak with a career-defining win against FWA Hall of Famer Gabrielle Montgomery, then doing as close to a verbal clap-back as he is capable of to Kleio de Santos.

Now, at this specific moment on the third day of March, some two weeks prior to King of the Deathmatch, the group of five strong are in the back of a Peace Corps van. They are somewhere through the rural terrain of Japan, which is a step of progress for The Menage, who usually are never even in the proper nation of the next FWA show up until the day of the event. The King of the Deathmatch is being held at an undisclosed location in Japan, like always, so being "in Japan" is good. Considering Japan is not a large country in terms of mass, it shouldn't be an issue to make it wherever they must.

XYZ also has ... experience in the King of the Deathmatch. He made it to the finals in the first iteration. He has not, however, won it all. Will this year be different? He cannot say, and he will not say, but he has as much if not more experience than pretty much everyone in the tournament. The only who may have him matched is the man who stymied him in the finals two years ago: Alyster Black.

XYZ isn't thinking about Alyster yet. He may have a long trek before he stands across from the masked man while fans bring the weapons. He also isn't thinking about the X Champion, Tommy Bedlam. Or, as he calls him, "Bedlam of the Tommies."

He's thinking about other people, specifically those whom he met today, because the Menage are not alone in the Peace Corps van, nor are they handling it.

The driver, a Caucasian man named Clint, has mostly kept to himself. He wears large-frame glasses and has long, messy blonde hair, the appearance of a person who has not showered in weeks. His partner, a young Asian woman named Daiyu, is twig-sized skinny, with frail arms. She wears something on her head resembling a shower cap, but it's not. Sierra believes Daiyu has cancer and has lost or is losing her hair, but they do not feel comfortable to approach the subject.

Clint and Daiyu are driving the fivesome from South Korea to Japan, specifically the town of Hakone and its 11,000 habitants below mountain ranges, within a national park, and looking up at the iconic and monstrous Mount Fuji volcano. From there, they will figure out where to go for King of the Deathmatch, and they have two weeks to prepare and relax. Japan is an experience fitting for relaxation, especially outside of the metropolitans such as Tokyo.

"X, did you think you'd ever have a chance again?" asks Frank, who's sitting in one of the uncomfortable, ripped-apart seats in the back of the Peace Corps van, which is painted white naturally but has some colorful paint of peace signs resembling a 1970s drug group or a 1960s Charles Manson recruitment caravan. It's certainly out of place in 2024. And Japan. But no one is asking questions.

"What chance?" X asks.

"The X Championship. You were not supposed to have a title match ever again after you lost to Tommy Bedlam the second time."

XYZ smiles.

"I believe ... things are easily forgotten. The makers of the matches in the FWA ... they have short-term memories."

"It's an opportunity,"
says Christian Howard, who's sitting next to Frank, to X's right. Across from them is Sierra and her daughter, Lizzy Golden.

The van hits a bump in the road, sending the five of them up into the air for a half second. They land roughly on the poorly furnished and cushioned seats. Lizzy even comes up rubbing her right thigh.

"It's an opportunity to finally win, to finally take the X Championship," Christian continues. "Everyone will focus on the champ, Tommy. Then there's Alyster Black. They are destined to face at the end, in the minds of most. But what about XYZ, the man who has quested a long way through the King of the Deathmatch tournament before? You are a wild card."

"There is also an actual wild card in the tournament,"
says Frank.

"The man who coins himself 'The Wild Card,'" X says. "We know of one another well enough."

X doesn't need to go on a soliloquy about Jason Randall. He looks out the window at the beautiful snow-white top of Mount Fuji, which has not erupted since 1707. Three hundred years is a long time, but X knows from experience that these deathmatches sometimes feel like 300 or more years.

Much of the drive has presented picturesque views and landscapes, such as a bright blue lake fitting neatly in a national park and rolling hills just above tree lines. The van has passed quite a few people along the gravel and dirt roads they've taken from the cities to the small outskirt towns. Most are hiking, but a few have needed rides. Clint hasn't stopped for anyone, though, mostly due to lack of space. There are six seats in the back, and The Menage occupy five.

"We're nearly there," says Clint, who looks back briefly through the purple curtains separating the back of the van and the front where he and Daiyu sit.

"Maybe 10 more minutes."

Lizzy looks to Sierra and with a load of sass says, "He said that 10 minutes ago."

Clint hears this, and Sierra offers a soft-spoken apology for her 11-year-old daughter's ways.



XYZ focuses through the van window on the ever-closer Mount Fuji, which is now so close than he cannot see the snow tips at the top. Eventually, it becomes covered by trees as the road narrows and the scenic view is blocked. X accepts this.

No one in the group has asked yet what they're doing, or why they're traveling to Hakone. The town's center is small, something X knows well as he's been here before. He visited Hakone with Big Al a couple of years ago for the inaugural King of the Deathmatch tournament. Then again, anyone will tell him Big Al was not real, so X was actually alone. But it was Big Al and his lung cancer battle that held X back from venturing out of the town's center in the few days they were stationed here.

He does not feel the same restraint this time, yet he has no real plan for what he'll do.

"Just up ahead. You have a place to stay?"

X affirms to Clint and avoids eye contact with everyone else in the group.

"Do you think Wild Jerry will watch?" Christian asks. "King of the Deathmatch?"

"I do not know. I believe so. I've been told he watched the match against Gabrielle."

"I hope he watches,"
Christian says.

"I only hope he is finding what he needs to find, and that he is being who he feels he must be."

"They won't let me go through the town,"
Clint says. "So I have to stop the van here. All the hotels are in the middle on the left, but you said you've been here before. So you know that."

"I came here last time via a Magic School Bus, so we were airborne through the clouds and I was driving. I didn't get to enjoy the scenery from the ground. Thank you, Clint. You gave me quite the perspective."


X and the other Menage members exit the van with their bags and take in the mostly desolate town center. Very few cars are parked along the sides or even driving. This fazes Christian, Frank, and Sierra, but it's no bother to X or Lizzy.

X walks around to the driver's side window and offers a handshake to Clint.

"Where will you two go now?" he asks the duo.

"Yamankako. It's northwest of here, near the base of Fuji. We have no desire to climb it, but there is a path for people to go up quite a ways. Just saying in case you're interested."

"And how far is that?"
X asks, intrigued at Clint and Daiyu's next steps on their life journeys.

"Maybe an hour. You might find someone around here to bring you, if you're interested. Or we could carry you all along the way. But you'd have to come now."

"I wish we had known your plans earlier, or we had discussed more on our ride together. Such is life. We have one room for the five of us while we're here. Tight fit, but we're a merry traveling band. We will make it work."

"Well ... you said it, friend. Such is life. But nothing is forever, my friend."


A bit nonsensical, but X allows for it to be the conversation-ender. He shakes Clint's hand once more and leaves him and his partner. Quickly, X leads the way down the side of the road to the lodging he has reserved. Lizzy follows quickly, excited at the spookiness of the town. The other three keep pace out of nervousness rather than positivity.



As the group sits in the lodging room -- two queen-size beds in one small 30-by-20 space with an adjacent bathroom and shower -- the moon hangs high in the night sky. The day's witching hour is upon, and the fivesome are prepared for sleep after a lengthy travel day through Japan's rural landscape.

XYZ lays on the ground, having given up the beds to the others -- Sierra and Lizzy to one, and Christian and Frank to the other.

“If anything has been revealed from Wild Jerry," XYZ says, laying on the uncomfortable wooden floor with nothing but a thin blanket between him and the cold wood, "it is that … maybe … this venture is not the desire of … everyone in The Menage. Maybe there are … other interests, goals, hopes, and dreams."

XYZ has been feeling introspective since Wild Jerry refuted his attempts to return to the group, staying in Mexico City park to fail at soccer.

"So I open the floor, the door, and the boar to you all … to tell me. What is it that you want to do with your life? With your souls? With your time on this circular rock amid a vast galaxy of light pebbles?”

The group is silent. No one seems keen to give an answer. Everyone is either sitting or laying, their eyes possibly even closed in an attempt to end the day and fastforward to the next sunrise.

Then …

“I want to learn how to wrestle,” says now-11-year-old Lizzy Golden, whose rapid-pace aging is the unspoken mystery of the group. “But as far as personal growth, I want to show more empathy.”

There is no light. No one sits up. It's a scene out of a children's campsite where they stay up all night in their beds talking to one another. You see nothing but hear Liz's voice plainly.

Her answer uncorks the rest of the group’s wishes for themselves. Liz’s mother, the soft-spoken Sierra, speaks up next amid the dark room.

“I’d love to settle down in a nice town along the East Coast of the U.S. and just enjoy the beach," Sierra says

XYZ continues looking at Sierra, who twirls her fingers through her long black hair. She then looks down at her daughter.

“Maybe … grow the courage to let Liz go on her own … when she’s old enough and the time is right.”

XYZ nods his head and then looks to the other two, spanning his eyes from Frank to Christian Howard and back to Frank.

“I’d like to sing karaoke,” Frank shouts.

The rest of the group is stunned, and the answer garners a cackle from Lizzy. Even Frank can chuckle at himself.

“Do you sing?” Sierra asks.

“Quite well, actually. I just … have stage fright.”

X smiles warmly from the ground, even allowing himself a humorous thought of the large 280-pound black man up on stage singing to a room of strangers.

"Will you sing for us one day?" X asks.

"One day. I have to practice with someone, so you all will do," Frank says.

"Can we pick the song?" X again asks, this time amid a chuckle.

"Sure, X. Sure. Just no Britney Spears."

Then silence. Only one more person to go.

“Um … maybe start my own business," Christian Howard says, his voice sounding unnerved and his confidence lacking.

“What type of business? Being boring?” Lizzy asks, chuckling. Then she remembers her desire for growth.

“Sorry. Um … what type of business? Something … interesting?”

Lizzy mutters under her breath how difficult that was, and Christian ignores it.

“Marketing. I don’t know yet.”

“Well … I want all of you to get what you want from this life. Don’t just follow me. I want to help you go where you need to go next.”

“What about you, X?”
Frank asks.

“Yeah, what do you want for yourself in the future?”

“I …”
X thinks about it longer.

“I think … I just want … to help people and lead them from the da…”

“No, X. What do you want for yourself?”
Sierra sternly asks.



It's not important yet whether or not XYZ answered Sierra's question, or what he said. What's important is the question was asked. The next thing XYZ knows, he's standing outside in the dark of night, at least a few hours before the sky changes to a light orange with the sun's rise. The street remains desolate, yet X knows someone will come to pick him up.

Sure enough, a van approaches him. In the passenger-side window, he sees Clint with a smile. The van passed through the town in the opposite direction from where it dropped X off, which makes little sense since Clint said he wasn't able to pass fully through the town earlier. Either way, X enters the van without a word.

Clint, now sitting in the driver's seat, looks back at him. X takes a spot on one of the uncomfortable seats in the back, and Clint asks where he's headed. Clint looks different than he did earlier, but X still knows him to be Clint. He can tell by the voice.

"I'm going where everyone else is going."

"Mount Fuji then."


X looks to his left and sees a large black man sitting next to him. It's not Frank, and the man coughs violently. X is unfazed. Then he looks to his right and sees Daiyu. She hasn't looked X's way once, and has a general aura as if she's upset with him.

"She's not angry with you," Big Al says. "She's angry you are here again."

"Are you angry with me?"
X asks somehow.

"No. I'm happy you're here again."

Next to Daiyu sits a little girl, maybe 8 years old. She has dark hair, almost a gothic look to her, and has her arms folded in a huff.

"And her?"

"She's here specifically because you'd be here,"
Big Al says. "She knew you'd be going up Fuji and wanted to follow."

The van trudges along through Japan's terrain, moving through some of the trees. Their shadows cast haunting figures amid the dark blue sky, which is slowly changing to early morning.

"Do you think there's any chance I will be here again?"

"Next time?"
Big Al asks, and knows the answer to the question right away. "Only if they forget again."

"Is that why she's mad? Because they forgot?"

"Yes. She's mad you snuck in. She knows what you're capable of, and she's did a lot to make it where you shouldn't be here."


Daiyu momentarily glances sideways toward X and Big Al, but she quickly looks back to the front.

"Is he also mad I snuck in?" X asks, nodding his head toward Clint, the driver.

"Not mad. He respects you."

A pause.

"They both do. But one has more to lose," Big Al continues, looking at Daiyu as he says the last part. "She's also mad she isn't driving the van."

"She thinks she should be the driver?"

"Wouldn't you?"
Daiyu barks, speaking for the first time.

X looks to the little girl sitting next to Daiyu. He thinks about asking Big Al whether she respects him, but X believes he knows the answer already.

Within what feels like a few seconds, the van stops.

"We're here," Big Al says.

It did not feel like an hour-long trek, but X quickly gets out of the van and looks up at the towering Mount Fuji. Suddenly, he notices there is no more Big Al, no more Daiyu, and no more Clint. Behind him is nothing but ... nothingness. Maybe some trees in the distance, but the black void is too dark to tell.

A sign greets him at the bottom of the volcano: "Can you climb over the dragon horns amid the hurricane winds of fire?"

X takes a few steps and notices loose pebbles beneath his bare feet. How did he forget to bring shoes? What kind of superhero is he to forget shoes for a climb up a volcano?

X then notices he is without his green cape, the cloth he ties around his neck. He cannot fly to make the climb easier. He is essentially naked. This is one of those nighttime experiences.

The shivering cold of March in Japan causes X to wrap his arms around his chest for the slightest edge of warmth. He continues to walk up the volcano. Up ahead, he sees Daiyu standing near the top, holding what appears to be a championship belt.

Approaching her is Clint. Is he now wearing a mask? It's too difficult to tell, as X is so far behind. Then he looks behind him and sees the young girl, following exactly in X's own path. She's mirroring him and X can tell it's an attempt to catch up. Somehow he has eclipsed a few hundred feet of the mountain in just a few steps.

After a few more seconds, X reaches a plateau. It's sort of a break spot up the volcano. Big Al stands there.

"Kleio is watching," he says, and X looks back down to see the girl with an old lady, seemingly her grandmother.

"She is watching," Big Al says.

"Kleio?"

"No. She."


Somehow, X knows exactly who "she" is. He looks up once more and sees Clint and Daiyu, level with one another, trying to tough out the steep slope to the volcano's peak. X has closed the distance, but he is not quite caught up.

"Remember what we said," Big Al says softly, as X passes him.

"Remember what we always said."



The issue with dreams is they usually do not end with complete fulfillment or satisfaction. The notion that they do -- with a triumphant victory -- is nonsense spewed for the furthering of art, for the telling of stories. In truth, a triumphant victory to the top of Mount Fuji would be quite the anomaly of a dream.

Clarity is different than victory. It is different than satisfaction, even, because clarity might not be the clarity we hoped for.

Did X have clarity when he woke up in the Hakone lodging room to the bright sunlight coming through the window?

Sierra is the only other in the group who's awake, tiptoeing from the bathroom in hopes of not disturbing the sleep of her pre-teen daughter. She sees XYZ's eyes open and crouches down next to him, trying to get as close as possible to whisper but not too close to make it weird. It's probably still weird, but X, per usual, isn't fazed.

"Your answer last night. Is that how you really feel?"

X remembers back to the conversation they all had at the night's end, and Sierra's question about what X wants for himself. Then he remembers his answer.

"Yes. I bel... I believe it is. I do want tha ... I think ... I'd ... yes ... I'd really like that."

Sierra smiles, not in her usual soft-but-possibly-fake way but in a motherly way. A kind way. A genuine way.

"I think so, too. Can I try to look for her for you?"

"Oh, no. I don't want you to do anythi..."

"X. Please."


Sierra puts her hand on X's wrist. Not a romantic gesture, but one of friendship. Of pure friendship.

"If your mom is out there, let me try to find her."

X nods his head, accepting Sierra's persistence.

"I just don't know ..." X's voice cracks, thinking back to the struggles he remembers his mom facing when he was just a child, the struggles that led her to giving him up to the night.

"I don't know if she's out there."

"I understand. But what do we say?"


X looks at Sierra, his eyes a bit wide now.

"What do we always say?"

X takes a breath -- a calming breath -- and gently smiles back.

"The dream never dies."
 
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Doc Sulliday

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All's Blair in Love and War

image_RmRt_sds_1701230060031_raw.jpg


Blair couldn't even remember who told her the news.

All she knew was that Kleio De Santos, her fearless leader, was no longer competing in the King of the Deathmatch tournament. She knows that she didn't hear it from Kleio. Why would Kleio De Santos communicate anything to her? It's not like they were part of a team or anything. That's been the status quo for some time. Communication, or lacktherof.

Kleio competed in the first two King of the Deathmatch tournaments. In the first one, she had run the tables to the finals where she lost to a Nephew whose name escapes her. There were so many of them, it was hard to keep track. It was irrelevant though by the next year, when Kleio had competed again and again made quite the run, falling just short of the finals that go around as she lost in the semi finals to another wrestler who yet again disappeared shortly after. Had it been Blair, she might have resented the fact that people enjoy signing up for these types of things despite not being committed to actually competing on other shows.

But Kleio held her tounge instead. Another example of a fault in her leadership.

When Blair takes over The Coven, she will not sit back and let people who compete on a part time basis...if that...continue to show up when they feel like it and win. The entire Coven would probably be just as successful if they sparred their bodies from the show to show carange.

Yes, Blair's coup was still very much on her mind.

And this was the perfect opportunity. She had been looking for leverage against Kleio for some time. Blair had wicked smile on her face as she walked into Russnow's office.

"I want in the King of the Deathmatch tournament" she had told him.

And just like that.

She was in.

It was almost too easy.

Blair began to consider why Kleio had withdrawn in the first place. When she first heard, she hadn't even begun to consider that aspect. All that went through her head was just how advantageous it would be for her to take Kleio's spot. This was a politics game, and Kleio didn't even know she was playing it yet. For the Witch Queen, someone who prides herself on being hardcore, someone who has prided herself on her performances in the Deathmatch tournament...for her to just...withdraw...it definitely made Kleio look weak.

So for Blair to scoop in?

Prove unlike Kleio, she has nothing to be fear, it would be a huge momentum gain.

It didn't even matter if Blair won one round. Would she to go on and win the whole tournament she'd probably be able to overthrow Kleio as leader right then and there. But Blair wasn't expecting that.

No.

All this was about, was to get one up on Kleio.

Once this civil war kicks off, it's going to get ugly, and Blair needs to build up her resume. She also needs to tear Kleio's apart.

This all made sense. And it's the reason why Blair went to Russnow and asked to take Kleio's spot. That she knows. What she doesn't know, however, is why Kleio isn't competing. Again, Kleio had talked non stop about the Deathmatch tournament. She prided herself on it, and just a show ago she was talking about how she was going to win it yet again as she was distracting herself with XYZ.

So what changed?

That is what worried Blair.

Did Kleio know already that Blair is planning a coup? Was she withdrawing as some sort of counter intelligence super move? Or did she have a better opportunity? Both situations worried Blair. This entire plan is so she can get one over on Kleio. If Kleio ends up doing the same to her, intentional or not, this could all be for naught.

Blair had to be careful.

One thing is for sure. This is Blair's opportunity to take a shot. To gain an advantage for the first time in this war, one Kleio shouldn't know anything about yet. She had the element of surprise. For the first time ever, Kleio's chances at Queen of the Deathmatch are null. By withdrawing from the tournament, she withdraws herself from hardcore consideration entirely. Instead, Blair takes her place.

Blair takes her place in the tournament.

Blair takes her place as the most hardcore member of The Coven.

Blair takes her place as leader and Witch Queen.

And it will all be done before Kleio even knows what hit her.
 

TOP GUY TIME

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FOR HANK

A soft, somber wind spreads over the Okoyama prefecture. A simple lead brushed across the sky, following nothing. It was carefree, without any sort of struggle in the world. It floated across the roads, climbing up into the smell of the sea. The leaf slowly drifted downwards, falling towards the water. In that very moment, it hit the sea, stagnant, one with the ocean for eternity.

It was a beautiful reminder that nothing could fly forever. Somedays, we hit the bottom and we drift off to become one with the sea. No matter what, the ocean will outlive us all. So, does it matter? Does what we do matter? Is anything we accomplish at all important in the grand scheme of the world?

Sure doesn’t seem like it for one man. On the Great Seto Bridge, a man sat on the ledge. His hand grasped the railing, his feet shakingly planted on a slim, narrow margin separating the vastness of the world from the material bridge. His hair swayed in the air, as he took a few deep, raspy breaths.

Holy shit.”

Sawyer’s voice rang out into emptiness. He shook, frozen against the pull. The wind was pushing and pulling him both ways. He had sat on the idea for years at this point. The simple nagging question of “What if” always lingered in his brain. What if one day, he stopped caring and simply let go.

Sawyer’s grip only tightened on the railing. He couldn’t cry. Tears wouldn’t come out. Was it fear that kept him stoic? Or, was it the anger that everything he tried amounted to nothing? Was it sadness that it couldn’t be more? Or, was it happiness that it could be over?

“Ok … what now.”


What a dumb question. Sawyer crouched slightly, smelling the sea breeze. He thought he could hear voices in it, but they were conflicting. He heard “let go,” then “hold on”. The world seemed to be conflicted in what he had to do anyways. It was almost if the world didn’t know what to do.

Why was he doing this anyways? Why now? What made now the moment? Sawyer didn’t know himself, but he could only speculate.

MARCH 24, 2010

The sounds of rubber pressed against a dirt road, as a beat-up truck shined dimly in the night. The truck pulled into a driveway, making its way down towards a small, quaint little house. The car stopped, and a figure stepped out of it. A teenage Sawyer. He made his way past the porch, slipping around to the back of the house. Using a small platform of wooden pallets, Sawyer slid open his window. He quickly climbed into it, quietly shutting the window behind him.
His alarm clock read 11:12 PM, as Sawyer slowly opened the door to his room. The house was dark, silent. Sawyer made his way towards the kitchen, as he opened up the fridge. However, he stopped as he heard the sound of creaking before light illuminated the room. His heart dropped, as he turned around, seeing two figures in the room.

“Uhh, hey dad … what’s going on?”

“I’ll tell you what’s going on. Where the fuck were you?”

“I was … out with Hank.”

Sawyer’s dad clapped a few times, before giving out a loud, mocking laugh.

“Hank ... HAH! You’re always around that boy. I don’t know why I even bother letting you go with him. He’s a bad influence on you.”


“Don’t say shit like that! You don’t know him, he’s my best friend.”

“Don’t go defending your boyfriend. He’s corrupted your mind. If I had the right mind, I’d ship you off to one of those Christian wilderness camps. Maybe they’d pray the homosexuality out of you.”

“One, he’s not my boyfriend. Besides, what would be the issue with that? I’d at least be happier with him than I ever was here.”

“Sure you are. I’ve spent the past 16 years dealing with your bullshit and this is how you pay me?! I’m not going to have a son who is a-”

A woman, who can only be assumed as Sawyer’s mother grabbed on his dad’s arm.

“Don’t say that honey! He’s your son.”

“I’ll say whatever the hell I want about him. Sawyer, you’re out. You don’t bother to come home for supper. You leave me and your mom worried every single night! So, I’ll remove that worry. Pack your shit up, you’re out of this house.”

Sawyer gripped his fist. He slammed the door of the fridge shut, getting into the face of his dad. The two stared each other down a few moments as his mom got in between them.

“Honey stop! He’s a boy, he’s not ready!”

“No, I think I’m ready. I’ll pack my shit and you won’t ever have to hear from me again.”

“Do it then. You’ll be out in the real world and you’re going to fail because that’s all you’ve ever been your entire life. A fucking failure.”


Sawyer pushed his father to the side, storming towards his room. His father huffed off as well, as his mom made his way to his room. Sawyer had already slammed the door and began to pack his stuff. He shoved clothes into a container in his room, ignoring the rising knocks on his door and his mom’s pleas.

After fully packing up a good chunk of his stuff into various containers and bags. Meanwhile, his door shook each knock. Eventually, he zipped up the final bag. He opened up the window but stopped himself before he could place his stuff outside. A hesitant sigh followed before he opened up the door. He found his mom, her face stained with tears, as she lunged forward and hugged Sawyer.

For a few minutes, they stood there. Sawyer never hugged back though, his hands clenched with nothing. Soon enough, he would peel his moms grip apart. Without a second word, he shut the door.

MODERN DAY

The sound of cars rushing by took over Sawyer’s eardrums. The voices of the wind fell silent as he hung over the water. If there was one regret he had, it was never talking to his mom again. He wanted to wonder how his mom would feel. Yet, she never bothered talking to him after the fact. Nothing close to an ominous text message or a friend request on Facebook.

He could care less about his dad though. His old man always wanted more from Sawyer than Sawyer was willing to give. Baseball, Football, Soccer, all sports that he was forced into because his dad didn’t want to raise a failure. But, if he jumps, does that make him a failure? Would this be the biggest middle finger he could give, never giving his dad the satisfaction of raising him properly?

Sawyer watched as more and more cars drove by. Nobody was bothering to stop or give him a look of any remorse. He wasn’t desperate for it, was he? He didn’t know if he was hoping someone would reach out and give him a brand new lease on life. Nobody would be there to help him … except one man.

“Hank …”

The one man who’s stood with him his entire life. The man he entered this industry with. He was owed a goodbye, and Sawyer never gave him it. He sighed, pressing his face against the railing. Second thoughts pressed through his mind as he stared out into the street. Was it worth it?

SEPTEMBER, 2020

Cans clinked together as we now see two individuals sitting on a couch together. We see a younger Sawyer Xavier, a mere month before his official FWA debut. To the side of him is a newer figure. His hair shorter and more blonde. He had much more muscle mass to him than Sawyer. Without a doubt, this was his closest friend, Hank.

“This is to your success. I’m proud of you man. You finally accomplished your dream. I’d say I’m jealous but, you were always one for the limelight.”

“Oh, hush. I legitimately would not be here if it wasn’t for you. So, I can’t thank you enough.”

“Don’t make this about me. This is your night. You’re about to go set the world ablaze and that’s all I want as your friend. Someone needs to stand atop the independents, and I’d rather bear that torch.”

“I know, but. Thank you. You were there for me when I needed you the most and … I don’t know how to appreciate that enough.”

“Well, you’re welcome. Don’t be getting all sentimental though. Loosen up tonight. We’ll watch some old matches and make this your last night as a ‘free agent.’”

Hank took a sip of the beer, as did Sawyer. He had spent many nights on this very couch, including the night he left home. Hank welcomed him in with open arms and he never could repay that act of niceness. As the hours went by and cans were drank, Sawyer had sunk into the couch. The night was getting dull until Hank spoke up again.

“Hey, Sawyer. When you make it big and take home gold, I want to buy you a drink for that. It’ll be completely on me. Doesn’t matter how expensive it is or where, just know that that drink is on me.”

“Umm, okay? Any reason for this?”

“Just figured I’d give you something to look forward to celebrating. You’re a good kid, you just need the proper motivation.”

“Well then, I’ll make sure to drain your account. Before you know it, we’ll both be on the top of our worlds. That’s a promise.”

Sawyer held out his fist, to which Hank smirked and bumped his fist against Sawyer’s. This moment would be ingrained in Sawyer’s mind, the final time they met.

MODERN DAY

They barely spoke now. Of course, they’re both busy and Hank has admitted it over texts. Somedays, he wishes they spoke more. But, that recollection of events in Hank’s house left a smile on his face. The promise of a free drink, that seemed to help him stabilize.

How could he let Hank down and never fulfill that promise. If he needed something to grab him and pull him back over the edge, that was it. How could he end everything right in this instant, and not even give Hank anything as simple as a goodbye.

He came out onto this bridge, without much of a plan. Every day, the idea of letting go lingered in his brain, becoming louder and louder. He kept ignoring Kemp’s calls, he didn’t think about the tournament. But, he didn’t know what was keeping him from falling.

After around ten minutes, of nothing but silence. No thoughts, no cares, no ideas, nothing at all, Sawyer climbed over the railing. He shakingly planted his foot on the side of the bridge, finally letting out a well needed breath.

“Fuck. What am I doing.”

He muttered, before stumbling his way down the bridge. His brain spiraled with some regret, as the sea breeze slowly started to fade away as he closed into the mainland. He finally made land and didn’t look back. Every step he made along the way was filled with dread.

The tournament finally clicked for him.

Sawyer has to win this for Hank.

Hank saved him whenever he needed it. When he left his parents, Hank housed him. At his lowest hours, Hank was there for him.

And when he was nearing the end of the road, Hank inadvertently paved a new one for him.

So the King of Deathmatch isn’t a prize for him.

It’s going to be a statement of promise.

He’ll win this tournament, then he’ll take the drink.

Sawyer took out his phone, shakingly opening his contacts list. He stared at Hank’s contact for a few minutes, before pressing it with his thumb. This is who he was fighting for. This is why he was going to continue to fight.

For Hank.​
 

TheProdigy

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Mike Parr presents:
The North American Gem
Click above to read
The North American Gem
Mike Parr


Table of Contents
[CHAPTER 1] – THE FINAL BATTLE (PART ii). 1
[CHAPTER 2] — THE RIVALRY.. 3
[CHAPTER 3] — AN UNLIKELY ALLIANCE.. 6
[CHAPTER 4] — THE QUEST BEGINS.. 8
[CHAPTER 5] – THE WYRM... 10
[CHAPTER 6] — THE FINAL BATTLE (PART ii). 14


[CHAPTER 1] – THE FINAL BATTLE (PART ii)


Generations before now, according to the wise old sage who occupies the hut at the summit of Mount Jeremy, it was foretold that the North American Gem would make itself available to its most deserving suitor at the time they needed it the most. Mount Jeremy, as it has been most recently christened, was one of the most challenging conquests that a person could undertake. Obstacles at every turn, unpredictable weather patterns – the reason why there are still unconfirmed reports of the accuracy of the tale of the wise old sage is simply because anyone that has made it far enough to engage has not come back the same.

“Poor old Danica, she came back one sandwich short of a picnic when trying to conquer ol’ Jeremy” are words that have never stopped reverberating around the skull of Mike, who from a young age had been earmarked as a prodigious enough a talent to scale Mount Jeremy and make it back with the wisdom and opportunities that possessing the gem allegedly affords.

Despite that fact it had been three long hard days since their confrontation with Michelle, he hopes that today is the day that those who had backed him are proven correct.

For Mike stands just yards away from the hut, all sorts of contusions spread over his body from the travel up. Scars and cuts visible with dry blood seeped into his hair and dried unto his skin. Leaning heavily on the hiking stick to support what is his rather lame left leg at this point, Mike’s staccato exhales are visible in the cold air. Using the stick to push himself off, he launches one of his size 11 boots into some more snow in front, about an each deep. The snow unseasonably laying on the ground at an uncommon point of the year was another added complexity that Make had to try and navigate. The couple of inches beneath his feet also sapping energy from his already weary body. Yet, he persists. One foot, then another, then another and another. The front door of the hut is in sight, and Mike is already getting a feel for the warmth emanating from inside he is that close, but progress is stopped as he hears the faint crunch of snow under a winter boot just to his left. Not making any sharp movements as he has been unable to identify the source of the noise, Mike stiffens up as he hears what is unequivocally the sound of another boot crunching down the snow beneath their feet. Another short clearing of the throat follows from that direction, but it is the clearing of the throat the changes Mike’s demeanor from tense to…. knowing.

He grasps the handle of his sword, which is attached to the buckle of his belt on his right-hand side and prepares to release the weapon at a moment’s notice. However, his notable change in demeanor is because he knows exactly who made it here with him, who is on the search for the North American Gem and is similarly equipped to fulfill that mission.

“Konchu…..I was wondering when you were going to show up ….”

[CHAPTER 2] — THE RIVALRY

“You have GOT to be faster than that Mike, you think you are some sort of prodigy, got to move your feet fast!”

The commander barks out as Mike, visibly drained and sweating, uses his forearm to wipe some of the sweat from his brow. The tip of his sword that he was jousting with buried into the ground below him to support both his body weight and the weight of the protective gear that he was wearing.

“You’re not going to get up Mount Sullivan without having to deal with adversity. It isn’t always going to be a day with a nice breeze to keep you cool, moderate temperatures so you don’t have to push yourself…you don’t know what you are going to get, so you have to be ready for every eventuality. Now lets go it again. Konchu, you ready too, son?”

Mike, still outwardly wearily, rolls his head in a circular motion and whilst his head is covered by the helmet and metal shield protecting his face, you know that his eyes are rolling into the back of his head. Konchu, rather fleet of foot and sprightly comparative to Mike, outstretches his arm and motions for him to bring it. Commander will never say it to either of them, but its common knowledge around the residents that they are two of the most promising prospects that they have in trying to conquer Mount Sullivan and capture the fabled North American Gem. Using both Mike and Konchu pitted against each other is an age old but exceptional tactic to improve the prospects of both.

Mike, as has been noted, was identified as a pretty prodigious talent from his early days when he first picked up and sword and started to joust. He is known for his tactical nous and inherent natural ability. Whereas Konchu, Konchu is a grafter, someone who exercises a great deal of cunning and puts a lot of thought behind every movement with no wasted action. Whilst not quite as naturally gifted, his diligence put him in the same realm as Mike when it comes to potential.

The differing styles of both can be seen from the off, where Mike takes solid steps forward with perfect technique, Konchu manages to weave and dodge with learned technique which is just a slight step off. Mike lunges to his right and Konchu blocks before attempting a straight hit with his left which Mike uses his agility to avoid. Mike, then Konchu, then Mike, then Konchu each take turns in exchanging blocks and strikes before fatigue begins to take over and Mike goes for a Hail Mary to bring proceedings to a close. Konchu manages to avoid the initial shot, sweep his leg around the back of Mike’s and bringing him crashing to the ground on the spine of his back. He hods the needle sword up to Mike’s neck guard, and Mike relents.

“F**k!”

Mike slaps the ground in frustration, as Konchu swaggers back towards the rest area. Those not in the know, while they still may feel that Mike is the one to conquer the mountain and deliver the gem, the true story of training for the last number of years has been Konchu getting the upper hand, Konchu looking like the better bet and prospect. With the in-house jousts, Konchu is the one making strides and Mike has stagnated. Mike throws his helmet off, a lack of discipline that will not endear himself to the commander, and trudges back to the changing area. Weary, sweaty, deflated and defeated.


[CHAPTER 3] — AN UNLIKELY ALLIANCE

Mount Kennedy remains undefeated, the North American Gem not yet presented itself to anyone who has managed to make their way to its peak. Nobody deserving, one would assume. Something that Mike is no longer interested in, as his continued stunted progress when paired against Konchu lead to frustration boiling over and him quitting the program. Screw their prodigious tag, screw their expectation…Mike just had to step away for himself. For months he heard rumours of the next expedition and then days later tales began to go around town of its subsequent failure, but it never once reignited the spark or intrigue in Mike to pick up his sword and go back to the grind. He was out. His last words he spoke to the commander, whilst he could not recall word for word exactly, he certainly was able to articulate the jist.



It isn’t Konchu, well it isn’t just him. Sure, it does stick that every time that I come up and face him, regardless of preparation and regardless of form, I seem to just fall a bit flat, fall a bit short. That doesn’t help. When I sit, and I reflect on things, I really need to know what I’m fighting for. The recently re-christened Mount Kennedy, do I ever think that I am going to have what it takes to scale that? Am I really the one that is special, the one with the natural ability and skillset to scale it and make it to where I need to be? And then…even if I do make it there, is the Gem going to present to me? Am I deserving of it making itself available to me? Hell…is that old sage tale even accurate, is there even a gem? It’s all just a bit…. a bit of nothing. All bluster, all hard work, and nothing to show for it and nothing tangible to aim for. I’m out.



With that sentiment in mind, it is perhaps a surprise that Mike finds himself answering the door to a call from Konchu, who has an angst-ridden expression drawn across his face. His message was short and to the point, and not one that he would ever have expected to hear. Konchu extended his hand as he stated, matter of fact.



“If we are going to take Mount Kennedy, we need to do it together.”






[CHAPTER 4] — THE QUEST BEGINS

It says something for the length of time that Mike and Konchu prepared for the journey, that the Mount had been rechristened from Kennedy, to Michelle, to Devin, to Peacock amongst others before settling on its aptly named Mount Jeremy. All the time, Mike and Konchu were sharpening their skills against one another, improving one another. More important than all of that, readying one another. It was one afternoon where Mike had seen off another rival of theirs, Xtacee, in a rather competitive joust that Konchu sought out Mike and made the determination that they were ready to conquer Jeremy.



“One thing we haven’t really discussed Konchu, if that Gem is real, it is said that it will make itself available to the one who deserves it. What does the other one do if it’s needed to conquer Jeremy?”



Mike asks the question that is very much the elephant in the room as this was going to be the first joint venture that had any real prospect of success. However, the ambiguity of the “deserving nature” qualifier of gaining possession of that gem and as thus, having a chance to conquer Jeremy, meant that Konchu’s ability to plan has been somewhat negated by the unknown, removing a very significant strength from their combined pedigree from their arsenal.



“I don’t think there’s anything to question, Mike.”



An ambiguous answer, but a small smirk that you can detect if you look attentively enough is enough to know that Konchu may have already made that determination in his head – how could he not be the one that deserves it? Something tells you that it’s going to be a problematic issue when it comes to pass.




[CHAPTER 5] – THE WYRM

We join Konchu and Mike on Day 4 of their journey to the peak of Mount Jeremy, and the physical toll it has taken is already evident. Both are moving rather labored, Konchu with a slight limp and Mike with a more pronounced one that appears to be stemming from some sort of potential hip injury. Their clothing is somewhat tattered, with tears in places that can only be because of contact from third party objects. As they approach a significant area of shrubbery, there is a low hiss that both men hear and brings them to an immediate stop. Both draw out their weapons and revert to standing back to back, touching, as they are not quite sure from what direction their next potential problem may be emerging.



Another hiss.



The air begins to feel noticeably more thin to both, and brisk. Whether it was the fear or the tension, it also felt like the temperature had dropped considerably from moments before and it was more frigid than you would hope.



Another hiss.



And then, movement.



Movement that Konchu catches in the corner of his right eye, and he breaks off back to back contact with Mike and stands in an engaged position to his north, having been facing west momentarily. Mike, similarly, reacts by turning to his east. Slithering into view is a enormous serpent, its scales shimmered with frost and its eyes silver form the reflection of the moon. It coils around the obvious path for progress for Mike and Konchu, resting itself so that the only way past is a significant detour – a detour that given the physical conditions of both Konchu and Mike, could be fatal.



The wyrm hisses again, before a haunting voice with a female pitch fills the air.



Konchu and Mike, who’s one and who’s two,

Mount Jeremy’s peak, I know you both persue

To try and get there, you both look like hell,

Last thing you need now, is to have to deal with me, Michelle.



I’ll let you through, ii you can tell me what has a heart that does not beat,

What has a bed, but does not sleep,

What has a mouth that doesn’t eat

Or are you both just facing down defeat?



Not wanting to break their glare with Michelle, but conscious of the need to communicate, both Mike and Konchu shoot each other a side eye and try to work out if the other has any idea by way of a response to this question that is being posed. The mutual understanding, confirmed by the subsequent silence aside from the occasional hiss filling the air, is no. Mike takes a step forward, and places his weaponry back into its holder. He slowly raises his arms in the universal sign language of ‘I come in peace’.



“Michelle, I think that we can prob-“



The thought barely leaves his mouth before suddenly an arrow comes whizzing past Mike’s ear and lands straight in the midriff of the Wyrm, who lets out an almighty moan that shakes the snow off some of the surrounding trees. Mike turns, furious to his left, just in time to see Konchu in the distance having darted west leaving footprints in his wake.



“You absolute fuc-“



Mike doesn’t have a chance to finish that sentiment before looking up and JUST diving out of the way of the serpent’s tail slamming down on top of his head. Mike makes his way his feet and draws out his weapon as Michelle’s tail thrashed again, but Mike manages to forward roll to the left and draw back and pierce the tail, purple blood of the Wyrm starting to dilute the white snow. The momentary lapse proves costly as he then glances back only to be caught across the face and whipped 20 feet across the land into the bark of a tree by another vicious tail whip.



Seeing the proverbial stars and stripes, Mike manages to just about come to in time to see the tail hurtling towards him again, and he rolls out of the way, causing the serpent to whip through the tree trunk, bringing a large amount of snow and the tree itself crashing down onto the Wyrm. Taking his chance, Mike quickly engages his sword and uses the tree trunk and scales the temporarily trapped Wyrm, piercing one of its eyes. A wail louder than you can imagine fills the night air, as more snow comes shaking from the surround trees. As Michelle wails, Mike surveys that the pathway is still blocked and worse yet, the tremors have caused a significant amount of snowfall to accumulate and being to roll down towards him.



With the most efficient option for conquering Jeremy no longer one, the choice is to follow Konchu west or take the east. With Michelle still screaming into the night, Mike beings to navigate his way east, staggering somewhat disorientated after the blow to his head.



[CHAPTER 6] — THE FINAL BATTLE (PART ii)

“Konchu…..I was wondering when you were going to show up ….”



Right back where we left them outside the hut, Konchu emerges from the shadows looking in considerably better shape than Mike. One would assume that not having to fend off a pissed of gigantic serpent might do that for you.



“You are too late, Mike.”



Konchu says, his tone is considerably colder and chilling than we have heard before. Mike’s eyebrow cocks in curiosity, before he begins to take note of his surroundings. How moronic of him, he thinks, as he missed the red splatters of blood in the snow leading to the hut door. As he follows the trail, he sees blood grouped around the handle, someone has gripped it to either open or… or to close. Mike’s eyes close as it registers, and he shakes his head disappointedly from side to side.



“Please tell me you didn’t hurt him, Konchu.”



Before, when asking about the elephant in the room and you may have caught a wry grin? This…this is a pronounced grin. This is as wide a grin as you could hope for. Mike follows the trail of blood from the door, right to where Konchu is now stood. He closed the door behind him….



“We both knew that this trip, that it wasn’t going to be a success for both of us. We needed each other to get so far, but when push comes to shove, only one us can conquer Mount Jeremy. Only one of us will be the rightful beneficiary of the North American Gem and you know something Mike….it wasn’t going to be you, so why waste your time detailing with the old man.”



The wise old sage must’ve had a poor moment when choosing to open the door of his hut to Konchu, not very wise at all. As Mike continues to digest exactly what Konchu has done, it affords him the opportunity to fill the silence once more.



“Not that it was anything we didn’t know or anything useful… too much time on his own in the mountain air I think, the blithering idiot.”



Momentarily, Konchu reflects before he takes out his blade. Mike still has his in his hand from before and adopts a defensive position. This isn’t jousting or sparring for practice anymore, one would assume. Given the number of victories that Konchu holds over Mike, you have to say that it isn’t the most promising circumstance that he finds himself in. Konchu lunges, and Mike someone manages to somersault on one leg out of the way. Konchu is nimble enough to entirely follow through and pivots to follow the somersault and launch his blade in that direction… that Mike manages to largely avoid but he gets caught on the forearm. His left arm is now limp by his side, his leg still limp from earlier, and Konchu closes the distance and closes in on another, and final, victory over Mike. Not pausing for thought, he swings and Mike with his last bit of energy hoists his sword up and manages to block, and the swords clash and connect.



Both men try to withdraw, but the swords start to shake, and each man therefore naturally tightens his grip as they are in fear of losing it. The noise of the swords clashing continues to echo, as Mike lifts his other arm as best he can to grasp the end of the sword – as the vibration continues to become more and more violent. Konchu does the same shortly thereafter. As sparks fly where the swords have clashed, a purple glow appears and in between both men is the North American Gem!



“COME HEEERRREEEEE”



Konchu’s guttural roar is something to beyond, yet, appears to be to no avail as the gem gravitates towards Mike who is still sternly focused on maintaining his grip in his weakened state. The Gem rests on the back of Mike’s hand as it grips the sword, as the purple glow from the Gem engulfs his hand and works its way up his arm. As the color becomes more pronounced, the balance of power shifts as Mike begins to push Konchu back. Konchu continues to retreat as the glow has now surrounded Mike entirely, and he knows this is his moment to strike, his moment to finally avenge all his past defeats. With one swift motion, with speed that is a betrayal to the situation he finds himself in, he breaks the deadlock, sidesteps the resultant strike from Konchu and sweeps his legs from beneath him. Konchu’s spine plants into the snow as the holder of the North American Gem stands tall. With the weapon placed up to his exposed neck, Konchu cedes.


EPILOGUE

What happened to Konchu? Did Mike finally conquer Mount Jeremy?



Truth is, days after this conflict and Mike has yet to return. Upon his reappearance, Konchu emerged talking about purple glows and serpents and was committed to the same institution for recovery that any of his returned predecessors have been. The myth of the North American Gem and how it pertains to conquering Mount Jeremy, as yet remains unknown.



Unknown to most, that is.



For Mike, one thing was made apparent to him following the events of the conflict with Konchu. The North American Gem is a part of him, and with it, he has never felt more equipped to take on and conquer Mount Jeremy. Wherever he may be, you would have to assume that it is on that pathway.



THE END
 

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[[ << AT DEATH'S DOOR >> ]]

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Another Fallout, another victory for Colby. Madison Gray fell just as La Sombra Filosa did, both becoming victims of Colby’s powerbomb-backbreaker, the Sol Reaper. It’s a fantastic way to start his career in the FWA, sure, but more importantly it shows that he isn’t like the rest of these rookies. While the newcomers to the FWA are looking for a spot on the card, some prestige, hell, a whiff at championship gold… Colby’s already done it twice. LSF, Madison Gray, all of these chumps on the lower card aren’t even in Colby’s league. They offer subpar fighting spirit and a lack of respect for what Colby’s trying to do. While they were practicing their chain wrestling, Colby was fighting in chain matches! The audacity of these suckers! Here, the FWA has a perfectly capable, strong, and deserving star, and he’s being put on display like some kind of bear in a zoo. But at KODM? It’ll be time to unleash the beast. While the Television Championship looks ripe for the picking, after Colby put down the number one contender Madison Gray and name dropped the champ, the aspect of winning the King of The Deathmatch’s third event and continuing his winning ways was hard to ignore.

But fifteen other dickheads stand in his way.

Finally, this was a chance for Colby to let loose and go balls out. He can finally get a taste of what this company really has to offer by being thrown right into the fire against accomplished, meaningful, and strong fighters all looking to take Colby out. The odds were stacked, as they usually are, but Colby’s in the zone. He’s got the will to fight and a warrior’s might. The people entering this match, they know the danger, they know what they may lose here, but they don’t know that Colby’s hoping for disaster in this competition. He wants to suffer, he wants to bleed, he wants to have his life beaten out of his broken body, just to take all of you suckers with him.

Tommy Bedlam’s chances are already low in the King of The Deathmatch, but when Colby Sol’s eyes met with the sign advertising this event, the X Champion’s fate had already been sealed.

So champ, you can chuck that championship into the ocean.

Because The Conjurer’s trophy is a blood soaked crown of thorns crafted from the entire bracket’s flesh.


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>> Island of Tsushima, Japan - February 14th, 2024

COLBY SOL: I’m not afraid of dying.

Standing near the cliff looking out to the blue sea, fresh off a win against Madison Gray, Colby’s eyes were reflective of his state of mind. He inhaled the deep sea salt air and let his body absorb the skin tingling sensation of this peace and quiet. For too long his body ached with physical and emotional pain, and his mind ran a constant marathon that no one could see. As the sun began to slowly creep downwards from the world, Colby stood there wearing only shorts, sweating from a workout in preparation for King of The Deathmatch. His body was obscured from the sunset’s shadow, but his voice was loud and bold.

COLBY SOL:
Death is a concept created by the old to scare the young. They tell us that we have these goals to accomplish, the same goals they wished to complete before their bodies gave up on them. It’s the dread, the fear, the anxiety coming from the fact that when our soul ceases to exist, we’re only remembered by only a few people.

Colby looked down at the rocks beneath him, letting his blood stained hands go limp, and watching as the waves crashed against the cliff.

COLBY SOL: But I don’t risk my life for the nostalgia of others. People see death as the end, as the final chapter… but again… I don’t fear it. I use death as a weapon.

The light from the camera illuminated his body, and the punctures all over his torso and back raised questions in the minds of the viewers. These wounds were fresh, all over his body, but his spirit remained in tact as he wiped a drizzle of his life essence from his mouth with his bruised forearm. His body had punctures that were small, but deliberate, making him look like some kind of spotted wallpaper. His hair had changed, no longer white, but rather a deep brown, similar to his brothers. But unlike his brother, he remains. Unlike his brother, he has a date with destiny.

COLBY SOL: I’ve waited weeks for this moment, weeks to finally be unleashed on this company like a bat out of hell. I’ve trained so fucking hard that I can’t even feel the pain and aches in my body anymore, and now I finally get to dish out some serious pain to those than are UNWORTHY of lacing a pair of boots! See, I’m rewarded for the fruits of my labor, I’ve established myself as a man who goes above the average newcomer, and I’m getting what is rightfully MINE. Don’t get it twisted, I fully intended to snap Brooklyn Steiner and his red-hot momentum in two, but for now, the X-Championship is just too fuckin’ hot for anyone but me to handle.

Colby’s arms stretched out side to side, his fists clenched, his black and purple knuckles begged for air, and his veins began to pop out like they were trying to escape his vessel. The anger, the pain, the absolute rage he had felt against the entire world began to build up, and he finally has the opportunity to let it all out.

COLBY SOL:
Years of work, years of improving my game, YEARS of playing someone I’m not… it finally comes to ahead. I finally get to sink my teeth into something worth chewing on. See, awhile ago, I couldn’t be a goody-two-shoes when I started wrestling in the US, I couldn't become a pro boxer when I was a kid... shit, I couldn’t even be the underling of a psychopathic cult leader… but since I've joined the FWA, since I've cut the bullshit out of my life, I've been proving everyone that's ever doubted me wrong. I've made good on every single promise since joining the FWA... I've beaten everyone put in my way, and now, at King of The Deathmatch… I finally get to rule as king. Tommy Bedlam isn’t going to stop me. XYZ isn’t going to stop me. Johnny fuckin’ Johnson? He sure as SHIT isn’t going to stop ME. I become the king of my world, the king of the hardcore world… the king of the FW-fuckin’-A… I rule as the ultimate survivor. I RULE, AS THE X-CHAMP…I….

Colby swallowed his breath, shut his eyes, and bellowed out a grueling scream and finishing the word "CHAMPION". The torment The Great Oxen, his teacher, had been on the mind and soul of Colby. Beatings were nothing new, fighting for your life was a daily chore, but he had done something new. He had awoken the spirit of The Right Hand, harnessed it's corruption, and has allowed Colby to use that hatred as a tool of his own brand of justice. To prepare for a tournament such as this, one must be willing to sacrifice their oath and devotion for a chance at eternal glory. Colby has taken that step, and he plans to leave Japan as a champion. Tommy Bedlam? Count your fuckin' days.


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>> Shimoagata District, Tsushima, Japan - February 16th, 2024

?: How have you enjoyed your time on our island, sir?

Colby's attempt at getting some rest was useless. His eyes snapped open as his body jolted backwards into the car seat. A quick sniffle and rub of the eyes got him back into the mood for socializing. As he looked around, he could see out of the dark tint of his window the moving road and buildings of the Shimoagata district. He turned his eyes towards the uber driver in front of him, somewhat suprised to hear his English.

COLBY SOL: It's been fine. It's good to come back when I can.

He smirked, readjusting himself in his seat.

COLBY SOL: You speak English pretty well. You from around here?

The driver seemed giddy, looking around at the little bit of traffic in his way before taking a slow left.

UBER:
I was born in Chicago, actually, but my family comes from Tsushima. You don't look like most of the people here. Business trip?

COLBY SOL: Business trip.

Colby reflected on his words. His current attire consisted of a sleeveless leather jacket with the collar up, his hair slicked back, and sunglasses preventing direct eye-contact. The tattoos made him stand out like a sore thumb, but his energy, that was what made him different. King of The Deathmatch lll was just days away, and he's rolling into this thing with his confidence at an all time high. He leaned forward, putting his head down and rubbing his hands together in thought.

UBER:
Actually, I'm a bit of a sports fan so...

Oh no.

COLBY SOL: Yeah? And what sports are you into?

The driver smiled ear to ear.

UBER:
Professional wrestling of course! It's the most exciting thing going on right now!

COLBY SOL: Interesting...is that why you picked me up?

UBER: Well uh... y'know... I'm not one of those fans. I didn't even know it was you until I pulled up a few minutes ago but, hey, that's pretty lucky, right?

Colby laid back in his seat, looking at the rear view mirror with a smile and a nod.

COLBY SOL: Oh you're very lucky, friend, lucky that I'm in a good mood. This is my stop, pull up to this curb on the right, will 'ya?

The driver did as he was instructed, but his smile had faded a bit, feeling uneasy and awkward as Colby stepped out of the car and whipped out his phone. There's a few moments of silence at this empty alleyway between two buildings.

UBER:
G-good luck though! I'll be rooting for you in the tournament from home!

Colby looked over and smiled, this time removing his sunglasses and storing them in his shirt.

COLBY SOL: Guess I can't lose now then, right?

Colby took a moment after rolling his eyes, tapping a big fat zero star review before making his way. His eyes locked on with the building on the left, a small café, with coffee you could smell just by standing in front of it. As the car drove away, Colby was met with his destination. Tea Plaza, a beautiful little shop in this district, ran by an old friend of Colby's. The crack of Colby's knuckles was just the prelude of what kind of "reunion' this would be.

***!~~Ring-Ring~!!***

Looking up from the counter was an older man, about in his forties, going over his menu with a sweet young couple. His mouth was agape, making the gray hairs on the side of his head and beard stand up.

COLBY SOL: << Arata-san. >>

Colby's eyes focused on Arata directly, gently brushing past the couple. They wanted no part in this, and abruptly left the building.

ARATA YAMAGUCHI
: << Colby-kun... what a surprise... what can I help you with? >>

Colby's mouth soured a bit and his attitude was on full display.

COLBY SOL: << You already know what you can help with, your debt. Okkusu-san has been owed this for over a year now. >>

Arata scoffed.

ARATA YAMAGUCHI
: << Okkusu? That psychopath? I'm not in the wrestling business anymore Colby, my debts are GONE! My training camp has nothing to do with what The Great Oxen oversees now! Okkusu knows this! >>

Colby looked around the tea room, seeing a few young men in a corner enjoying a meal, but all looking towards Colby.

COLBY SOL: << Lots changed since you've been out of the biz, Arata. Okkusu's mind changed the same way. So cough up what you owe him so I can get outta here. >>

ARATA YAMAGUCHI: << Why do you care about what Okkusu is owed? You're a signed man, you don't belong here doing his dirty work again! >>

COLBY SOL: << I said I want to get out of here. >>

Arata pauses, thinks, and comes to a realization.

ARATA YAMAGUCHI: << Okkusu has never lied to me. Okkusu has no need for more of me... Colby... what are you doing here? >>

COLBY SOL: << Arata... >>

The jacket comes off.

ARATA YAMAGUCHI: << You... >>

The trainees get up from their table and approach.

COLBY SOL: << Arata! >>

A chair was aimed for Colby's head.

ARATA YAMAGUCHI: << WHAT DID YOU DO?! >>

A well timed hit, but not for Arata's young lions. Colby had heard the clatter of the chair and ducked it, showing the young gun some of his boxing prowess, knocking him out with a quick one-two combination. The others prepare a fighting stance, leaving Colby to toss his top to the side, and the horrific wounds he had sustained days earlier were on display, as Colby's demonic-like back stared at Arata.

COLBY SOL: << I did what had to be done. >>

ARATA YAMAGUCHI: << Huh?! >>

COLBY SOL: << You fucked me over big time. >>

ARATA YAMAGUCHI: << How?! After all I've done for you! I gave you a chance to get to the FWA in the first place when no one wanted you! >>

COLBY SOL: << Stevey's money, you fucked with it for years. You took advantage of his good worker mentality and stiffed him. I know he doesn't give a shit about it now... but I do. Consider this the final favor I do for Okkusu. >>

ARATA YAMAGUCHI: << Bullshit! When Okkusu hears this, you're done. >>

Colby looked around the room, three more trainees, but no real back up. He shrugs at Arata before cracking his knuckles and taking a step forward.

COLBY SOL: << I'm far from done, I'm just getting started. I plan on walking into King of The Deathmatch a guilt-free man.>>

Arata in a panic grabbed a pen and thrusts forward, but Colby grabs the wrist and Arata by the throat before lifting him up with ease, choking the life out of him with the leverage.

ARATA YAMAGUCHI
: << Dis*ACK*respectful br-AUGGGHHH! >>

Tighter.

COLBY SOL: << A pen? You're tried stabbing me with a fucking pen? >>

Colby was getting nowhere with this. There weren't any customers here, but these trainees? They could be an issue. The shit talk kept Colby looking like a force of nature, but the Yamaguchi Technical Style is no joke. They all ease back in fighting stances, but their belief in themselves began to dwindle. Colby scowled, before shoving Yamaguchi back first through one of the tables! Plates and silverware go everywhere as Colby presses down on his former employer's throat.

COLBY SOL: << You're a scummy businessman, and an average sensei. I came here to say farewell in the only way a real warrior can; by having the last word. I worked day and night to make your promotion the best it fuckin' could be, and you turned my gold into SHIT! The reality is Okkusu's not in this game anymore, Stevey wouldn't be a fan of what I'm doin', and... I can't stand you. Your pupils see you as an elder, a guru who's here to shape and form their young minds, but you know that's all a load of bullshit. Damn your traditional conman scheme, damn Full Force Pro for letting you take over... and damn you for what you put my brother through, you heartless son of a bitch. >>

With a flick of his wrist, Arata was knocked out. He breathed, but his pride had been cut deep. As Colby raised himself to his feet, wiping the blood from Arata's nose on his pantleg.

COLBY SOL: << Now... for the goods. >>

His eyes wandered, peering over the dining room. The damage was done, but his reward? His reward came crawling over towards him like a pathetic worm. In a mess of black hair came one of Arata's students. A young man... an ugly, young man, but one with some kind of undying spirit. A spirit Colby could respect. With a look of dissatisfaction, he kneeled down, looking this blubbering, beaten mess of a man with pity... then curiosity.

COLBY SOL: << You... you've got something. >>

He peered closer.

COLBY SOL: << Something I could use. >>

Colby's words pierced the young man's ears. The young lion's heart had been swayed and lied to, but his eyes yearned for a clear path. Colby's presence was that path, and the hand he extended to the pupil was his ticket to freedom. Where this road would lead him was to be seen, as the footage stutters into a mess of static.


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>> Island of Tsushima, Japan - February 14th, 2024

A cool wind, a mellow peace, and an exhausted body illuminate the scene. Resting his body on the wooden floor in a seated position, Colby's eyes softly open up to the scene he had caused. Steam practically flew off of the heated body of The Conjurer as he looked down to see his handiwork, the beaten, bloodied body of the man he once called his superior, Okkusu-san, also known as The Great Oxen. Not only had he defied the old veteran, but Colby had worked his body to it's limit to defeat him.

THE GREAT OXEN: << You... >>

COLBY SOL: << Yes, Okkusu... me. Colby Sol. I did this to you. >>

Colby looked down at his right hand, the one he favors to knock his opponents out.

COLBY SOL: << You played your part. You put me through the toughest training I could go through one last time in preparation for King of The Deathmatch... and betrayal was your award. >>

He stood tall and mighty, looking down at his teacher with disdain. The punctures on his body were fresh, and from the looks of it, the intense points of a bed of nails placed against the wooden wall of this old wooden shack near the cliffside were the culprits. Colby would do anything to go the distance in KODM, even if it meant pushing his body to the max.

COLBY SOL: << After retiring La Sombra Filosa... I couldn't help but scratch the itch of taking out another legend. With your help, I demolished Madison Gray. Now? I demolish the entire X-Championship division in one sweep. My time in Tsushima again has been enlightening. >>

Okkusu gritted his teeth, but his old, tall, broken body couldn't even garner the strength to pick itself up anymore. The man who trained Colby's brother, Steven, and refined Colby's style laid powerless to his pupil.

COLBY SOL: << You've given me much... but your lessons dictate power, not unity. You were a fool to help me, and your legacy will forever be nothing more then a footnote in my legacy. >>

Colby's foot pressed against the back of his head, keeping him against the ground.

COLBY SOL: << The Oxen Style is mine to conquer the wrestling world with now, and I plan on utilizing it to it's true potential. While I dine like the king that I'm soon meant to be, you'll be left in the dark to starve. >>

Colby let his foot up, turned around, and began to make a slow, pain filled walk out of the shack, only for Okkusu to lift his head up with a weak breath.

THE GREAT OXEN: << You... you're doing this all wrong... again... >>

The words tangled the mind and heart of Colby, but he wouldn't allow himself to show weakness, and kept moving forward. Okkusu could choke on those words for all Colby cared. It wasn't going to stop him for what he had done, how he had beaten the snot out of Okkusu out of pure spite, and it wouldn't stop him on his road towards King of The Deathmatch. Unrestricted by the morals of his teacher, fresh off of a two match winning streak, and gaining unrestricted access to complete and utter mayhem, Colby was about to walk into the mouth of hell equipped with only his fists. Nothing would stop him, not even death itself, making him THE man to target.

So check those scopes, because you sure as shit don't wanna miss this target.

 

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In The Blood

gkIplCnNecTAEMGS39r24PigMA_1m8IpAKAqPSWvQrUvu6tVNv_tJECp9p2BRtkgB_Ofk9y10c_UHtAvMhflBeHrAonMi1K2VKD30DT9bYiHsYEgfpzb2ViedKtV5EvMRbkkUrEsxmIPaJQpQ1Rr-iM

Blood, it’s what every living creature on this planet needs to live. What I have done is agreed to be in a tournament where it will be the intention of every opponent I face to empty my entire body of that life sustaining fluid. Unfortunately for them, I know what I signed up for. I know just how violent it can really get with all of the matches and their weapons and random toys that are set up for the wrestlers to use against each other. It isn’t cause I watched some tape showing what others have done in last year’s King of the Deathmatch. It isn’t cause I had to make my way through some dive bar event where the ring was bought at a Dollar General and all you got bad for your suffering was a hot dog and a handshake.

I know, because it’s in my blood…..


June 21-2003

The smell of stale cigarettes and cheap beer perminates through the local bingo hall as DDW’s annual, Tales of Death, deathmatch tournament is on its way.

“Tell him to stay down, PLEASE, Mommy!” A little Johnny Johnson screams up at his mom, who is standing next to him in the crowd. With tears streaming down his face, there is nothing but fear in Johnny’s eyes.

“Honey, I can’t do that. I know it’s hard to watch.” Shannon puts her hand on the back of Johnny’s head, pulling it into the side of her thigh, hiding his eyes from what is occurring in the middle of the ring. “I don’t understand why Logan told us to come to this, it’s barbaric and far from anything you need to see.”

The rest of the crowd, which is about 30 to 40 people spreadout around the ring. The ring has barbed wire in place of the normal ropes on two sides of it. There are sheets of plywood in the ring with one board being strewn with carpet strips, and the other board being layered with 100’s of thumbtacks. There is broken glass spread out over half of the ring mat. Two men are have a gory battle within the confines of the ring. The one, isn’t important to this story, but the second is Logan Darwin.

The two men are currently slugging it out in the middle of the ring with each other. Logan’s face looks like it has been stained with blood. It is an abhorent amount, and blood keeps flowing from a gash at the top of his head. The random wrestler then takes Logan and whips him upside down into the board with the carpet strips. As Logan is rolling around the mat in pain the other wrestler than runs at him and slide dropkicks Logan under the bottom rope and sends him crashing on to the floor before, literally feet away from where Shannon and Johnny are standing.

Johnny is peaking out from the security of his mother’s leg and looks towards Logan as he hears him hit the ground. As soon as he see’s his father on the floor, with a blood drenches with blood, Johnny let’s out a big scream and smashes his face back into the side of his mother’s side and grips his arms around her entire thigh. As the other wrestler makes his way onto the floor, Johnny can hear the wrestler beating down on Logan. With each hit, it’s like Johnny can feel each one as he winces every time, gripping his mother’s thigh tighter, and tighter with ever hit.

The other wrestler picks Logan up and rolls him back into the ring. As he gets inside Logan quick uses the ropes to help him get to his feet before the other wrestler is able to get into the ring. Then as the other begins to slide into the ring, Logan grabs a glass vase up off of the mat and slams it into the head of the other wrestler. The other wrestler falls, flat to the mat. As he does Logan quickly goes for the cover. The ref gets down fo the count and with that Logan gets a three count, winning the match and winning the Tales of Death deathmatch tournament.

Shannon reaches down and begins to rub the back of little Johnny. “You don’t have to hide your face anymore, baby. Daddy won and the match is over.”

Still frightened from the vivd scenes of violence that he just witnessed, Johnny keeps his head buried in the thigh of his mother and just shakes his head. “I wanna go home Mommy. I don’t want to see Daddy today.”

“I don’t think that’s an option, Johnny. We drove a couple hours here, because your Daddy wanted you to see him and what he does for work. I get what you saw Daddy doing and how he looked with injuries he had on his face was very scary. It scared me too. But, Daddy really wants to see you at least for a little bit before we drive back home.”

Shannon reaches down and grabs Johnny’s arms prying them off of her leg. She then crouches down and gets face to face with Johnny. With tears his his eyes, he begins to sniffle as some mucus is running from his nose too. Shannon looks into Johnny’s face with a mix of sadness, anger and sympathy.

“Baby, you can stop crying. I don’t like that Daddy has to do this for his job, but this is what he loves to do and he is very talented at it. You know he doesn’t always get this hurt when he has to fight. I also promise that we won’t come to this type of show, ever again.”

Johnny’s tears begin to subside and he sniff backs the bit of mucus that had begun to run out of his nose. Shannon can’t help but feel sad for how Johnny feels. Even though it was Logan that suggested the two of them drive here and see him perform, she should have known it would have been too much for Johnny, at this age. Shannon clears Johnny’s cheeks of whatever remnants of tears that Johnny shed. She then leans over and kisses him on the one cheek.

“How about we give Daddy ten minutes to clean up and then we go see him and tell him he did a great job? Are you ok with doing that?”

Johnny thinks about it for a second but then nods his head. Slightly holding back another crying spell just thinking about seeing what he witnessed earlier.

—-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

“Do you really expect me to eat this shit?”

Johnny is at his house, just outside of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He is currently sitting at his dining room table. His personal chef has just brought out his diner. What Johnny sees before him as, “diner”, is definitely questionable in his eyes.

“What do you mean? This is exquisite dish of duck. You told me you needed to lean down and wanted meals to help you do this. Duck is a very excellent meal to do so.”

Johnny looks down at the plate, then back to the chef, then back down to the plate, to only return his gaze back to the chef.

“You got to be shitting me. I pay you good, wait, let me back track. I pay you REALLY good money to make me food. Food I know will help me with training for my job. But also I have entrusted will be, at the very least, edible. This meal in front of me, right now, looks like I hired Harole the Hobo that lives in a sewer in Kensington to make me his finest dish.”

Looking extremely annoyed with how Johnny is treating his meal, the chef folds his arms across his chest and begins to reply back to Johnny in an agitated state.

“Are you saying that my hard work and food is not good enough for you? What you are saying to me is greatly insulting, I’ll have you know.”

Johnny just let’s out a little bit of a laugh.

“I’m not sure if you thought I would actually give a shit if I hurt your feelings. I pay you to make me food that I will enjoy. I KNOW, what you brought me here right now makes me want to down an entire bottle of engine coolant instead of eating it. As I see it, you kind of have two options either make me something else, or you can find another person to peddle this plate of shit to.”

The chef is extremely hot right now. He turns and begins to walk out of the dining room. Swearing under his breath at Johnny.

“I take that as you telling me that I’ll be ordering take out tonight?”

Johnny let’s out a big sigh.

“Why can’t everyone just be amazing at what they do, like me.”

Johnny stands up and walks over to a table against the one wall. On that table sits his phone. He grabs it, quickly dials and number and then puts the phone to his ear. It appears that someone does answer the phone on the other end.

“Hey, want to come over?”

Johnny pauses for a second as the other person replies to him.

“Really could use some company. Been thinking about life stuff and have a lot on my mind with this trip to Japan on the horizon.”

Johnny pauses for a few seconds again.

“Sure you can stay the night. I don’t have to leave for my trip for a few more days. Oh, also, bring some dinner.”

Once again, Johnny pauses, waiting for the other person to reply.

“Yeah, I could eat a horses ass if you cooked it right, right now. I really don’t care what you get, just make sure that it isn’t duck.

Alright.

Bye”

—---------------------------------------------------------------------

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I don’t quite understand it. I know I’m not like that old fuck, but it’s like what I shall when I was a little kid. It planted a seed in me where when I see blood, it triggers a carnal emotion inside of me and for some reason I find enjoyment in seeing it. I don’t think that it makes me a psychopath. I probably have fifty other reasons why I could label myself that, but my affinity for seeing blood, especially when it’s another person’s, isn’t one of those reasons. From that one day when I was a little kid and saw my father painted in blood. Did it make me equate winning to seeing blood? Is that what I want? Do I need to see people bleed at the hands of my own? Christ, maybe I am a psychopath. I know one thing, if the police ever read these musings I keep writing I’ll be getting a few murders pinned on me.



June 21-2003

Johnny and Shannon have made their way back to the make shift dressing room of the bingo hall that DDW is holding their event for the night. As they make their way into it they spot Logan sitting over at one corner of the room. He’s hunched over a chair. As his back is exposed you can see that it has been riddled with shards of glass. At that point in time there is another man using a pair of tweezers to remove shards of glass from Logan’s back.

The man picking the shards of glass from Logan’s back, looks over towards Johnny and Shannon. He then turns back to Logan and mentions something to him. Logan then turns his body around towards the door of the dressing room, spotting Johnny and Shannon. Wearing a giant smile as he spots his family, he greets them accordingly.

“HEY LEGEND. Did you enjoy the show. “

Johnny stays silent, staying as close to Shannon as possible. Confused by his son’s reaction to him, Logan waves off the guy that was with the tweezers. Logan begins to stand up, but then he notices Johnny moves behind Shannon. Not knowing what exactly to do Logan just stops moving towards him. He looks at Shannon for any sort of answer. She’s not sure what to say, as she knows the problem, but knows Johnny has pretty much shut down from what he saw in the show.

“Maybe we should go.”

Logan is shocked by what Shannon just said, not sure what exactly is going on. Shannon mouths the words, “I’m sorry”, to Logan.

“It’s just that Johnny is super tired from the long trip and just being excited to see his daddy doing work stuff. It’s a long ride home and I’m sure Johnny just wants to get some sleep in his big, comfy bed.”

With that, Shannon takes Johnny’s hand.

“I’ll call you once we’re home, Logan. If Johnny happens to still be awake you can talk to him then. Love you.”

—-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

“I’m not sure if you understand what exactly I have agreed to do. People are going to want to damage the money maker.”

Johnny is sitting in his living room right now. On a red leather couch he is at one end, and on the other end is a woman. Her name is Quinn. No, Johnny isn’t sure exactly what Quinn is to him. They have fun together, they have sex together, he leans on her heavily with all of his emotional baggage that he is scared shitless of sharing with others. However, it just feels like, for the both of them, their very nondescript relationship works best. As they both sit on the touch there is a box of pizza between the two of them.

“The money maker, really?”

Quinn laughs over Johnny’s previous remark.

“You could at least try to pretend that you don’t believe you’re the best looking guy in a five mile radius.”

Johnny makes a funny face at Quinn’s remark.

“Five miles? Seems a bit low, but hey I get it. Don’t want me to get to big of an ego. Some might say it’s too late for that, but hey, people need to dream. But really, I understand why I agreed to do this entire deathmatch thing, but I even surprised myself after agreeing.

I’m not going to say that I have a sadistic side. I just know that I need to bite the dog before it bites me.”

“You talking about Tommy.”

While Quinn was talking, Johnny reached down and grabbed a piece of pizza and took a bite. While still chewing he begins to reply to Quinn.

“Yeah, Tommy. I’m honestly not sure what drove me to have such a vile hatred for him. Like I’ve told you before we ran together a few months after both of us arrived into FWA. We really thought we were going to be the next big things. Then I got hurt and was gone for months. I had to stay at home and watch as the group we begun became a powerful entity within the company. I had to watch at he did become the next big thing.”

“You ever consider it was because of being jealous?”

“I couldn’t be jealous of a dumb, hick like that.”

Quinn stares into Johnny’s eyes. He can feel it as she stares. He looks over at her.

“What? The guy makes me feel like I’m Albert Einstein.”

Quinn reaches back behind her. She grabs the glass of wine that was sitting on the table next to the end of the couch she is on.

“It just doesn’t make sense that you have zero trust in a guy that, at least in my eyes, was a good friend of yours at one point in the last few years. You would think that you’d want to, get the band back together, as they say. Especially if he is having success like you say he is. If he is, he definitely could be someone that could push you to have that same success, if not more.”

“Quinn, don’t be so damn naive. He’s had success while I was gone. There is an obvious correlation there. I shouldn’t trust him, because there is an obvious reason for him to not want me around. Without me around his competition is that much less capable of getting what he has.”

Quinn takes a deep breath and then exhales. Johnny can feel that she was annoyed with his last comment. Trying to soothe the feelings, he continues.

“All I’m saying is that I agreed to do this tournament in order for me to know I can put him down if what I’m saying is the correct assumption.”

“Sure, but like you just said it’s an assumption. Not only that, but aren’t there like ten other competitors in this thing. Aren’t you really worried about the rest of the competition?”

Johnny shakes his head in frustration.

“I’ll be honest, I haven’t thought about anyone else but Tommy. I know it’s stupid and I know it could very well cost me my chance at getting the prize I want, but Tommy is the only person I even thought about going into this tournament. It’s like I’m a stud race horse and I had to put blinders on myself thinking it was the only way I was going to win the race. Besides, we’re talking about me here, who the hell is better than me?”

Johnny gets a devilish grin on his face. As he does though, Quinn begins to get an even bigger devilish grin.

“I’m not sure, but the way you keep talking about him I might need you to get me Tommy’s number.”

—---------------------------------------------------------------------

June 21-2003

“Logan, believe me, Johnny shouldn’t have been to that awful show tonight. He didn’t leave the side of my leg the entire time. And when he saw you and all that blood. I don’t even want to think what fucked up nightmares he’s going to have for the next couple of nights, at least.”

Just like she said she would, Shannon has called the hotel room of Logan’s, as soon as Shannon and Johnny got back home. Walking around, talking on the cordless phone, Shannon is just trying to communicate on what exactly happened with Johnny, while at the show.

“I’m not sure if he is still awake. It is late, but I’ll check. I know that you thought of us coming since it is the closest show of yours for quick a while and it’s a long road trip this time around.”

Shannon walks over to Johnny’s bedroom, opens the door a little bit, peeking inside. Pushing the phone away from his face a little bit, she calls out for Johnny.

“Sweetie, you awake?”

Rustling a little bit under the covers, Johnny lifts his head up and mutters out a soft, “yes”.

“Do you want to talk to Daddy for a little bit before you go to sleep?”

Beginning to sit up this time, Johnny nods his head. Shannon then walks over to Johnny’s bed and hands him the phone. Johnny then puts the phone to his ear.

“Hi, Daddy. How are you?”

Johnny pauses as he let’s Logan respond.

“I did want to see you. I just didn’t like seeing how hurt you got there. There was just a lot of blood. Blood was every where. Please don’t do those matches again. “

Johnny pauses once again, this time tears begin to roll down his one cheek.

“I do like to cheer for you, but it just made me sad cause I thought you were really hurt. I don’t want that, I don’t want you to be hurt like that.”

Johnny then drops the phone and buries his face in his hands and he begins to cry again. With a mixture of sadness and anger, Shannon picks the phone back up and puts it to her ear.

“Logan”

She pauses for a second.

“Yeah, I think it’s best that Johnny gets some sleep. Maybe tomorrow he’ll be up for another phone call. Be careful, love you.”

And with that, Shannon hangs the phone up. She begins to rub the back of Johnny as he continues to cry.

“It’s ok baby, I promise that Daddy was fine. I know it was a lot of ugly stuff at the show today, but I promise he’s not hurt. You going to be ok, or do you want me to lay with you for a little bit?”

Johnny slowly removes his hands from his face and looks up at Shannon. Still with tears in his eyes.

“Mommy, all I see is blood.”
 
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