FWA ‘Back in Business XVII’ || Promo Thread

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Death Walker

Better Known As King Of Armageddon | Trapped In Darkness
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…The Rain

“...it just doesn't stop.”

In a room full of black cloaks, the silence speaks louder than anything or anyone else at this moment.

“I said the war doesn’t stop, my children. At least not until it has run its course…”




A black velvet cloak with dark red trim around its hood and sleeves, creeps down the middle of an aisle while the other cloaks watch from the shadows of this dark room. A single beam of light fills up the straight path and The Dark Guardian continues on with his proclamation.

The Dark Guardian: “…and when it's all over, the results that we are left with usually are the necessary ones. That is where we… dig up the Earth and… plant ourselves, we bury our roots in dirt. Not just any dirt, the type of dirt that we're prepared to feed off of and with the right amount of hydration, oxygen and… light?!”

The Dark Guardian has arrived at the end of the aisle, looking down at his right boot as it was the last one to step. He ponders for a second then gives a slight chuckle before turning around and walking back up the lit walkway.

TDG: “Wait… LIGHT?!? Hmm… yes, some light is required but let's be realistic about this ‘fact’. In order to receive the light, you need… the darkness! THE DARKNESS THAT WE TRULY LIVE FOR! The darkness that we are advised to steer clear of and not to fear or concern ourselves with. Children, we no longer see the darkness as simply a sign of no present light but a great and vicious power. A power which we own, a power that we must recognize as a true testament of oneself and not merely something to teeter back and forth over.”

From the front of the two gatherings on each side, Death Walker is calmly pacing from left and right. But then the demon suddenly stops in his tracks as the advisor carries on with his speech. Death squats down and gently touches the innocent head of a hooded toddler in attendance. He goes on to make contact with a few other youths who are within his arm reach. As if he's spreading dark energy to everyone he touches, Death proceeds to touch the heads, faces, necks and shoulders of his adult followers to share in his admiration.

TDG: “Each and every one of you must be willing to accept what comes with this power. Our Death Walker has! Look at him! Once a confused and mortal man birthed in trauma, pain and anger. Now HE IS… the perfect specimen of unrelenting rage, a ticking time bomb with hellacious intent. Ready to tear through every soul that offers itself for his gruesome and repulsive slaughter. And although he and I possess the dark magic that will usher in a new era of misery, YOU are the ones that will be our greatest gifts to this new world. We expect you to live and die as a disciple of The Death Walker. For we will build our kingdom, we will fight with no mercy and we will influence others to become… dark. And the reason that we demand your devotion, your dedication is because all of you are… our Terrors of Darkness.”

There's some mumbles from the hooded groups but not for long…

TDG: “I said that YOU ARE THE TERRORS OF DARKNESS!”

Almost immediately, everyone (with the exception of Death Walker) produces a rallying cry of…

“YEEEEEEEEEEAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!”

…where the noise reaches a crescendo that could possibly crumble the structure around them. All the lights are flipped on and the majority of the disciples remain in their large groups as others begin to spar in boxing rings and MMA cages. With a proud smirk upon his lower face, The Dark Guardian turns around and walks up to his greatest pupil, now Lord of wickedness.

TDG: “My Lord… shall we discuss your upcoming fight in private?”

The evil entity simply gives an effortless shake of his head so the mentor and advisor goes on to speak.

TDG: “Okay so as you already know, they've-”

But before The Dark Guardian can go over some motivational game plans, there's an interrupting crack of thunder nearby and then a huge downpour of rain following more cracks of thunder. The weather change establishes the attention of both Death Walker and The Dark Guardian as they divert their eyes to the roof above their heads.

TDG: “Hmmm… The last time something like this happened, it took us on a little trip. Maybe that's not the case this time.”

As The Dark Guardian goes to chuckle and the followers still stare at the ceiling in a befuddled manner, everything… and I mean everything goes black awhile. However, no one screams or utters a word as they have been primed to face any fear especially when it comes to darkness.

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

IN THE DARK AGAIN!

A few rumblings from the disoriented masses and the infamous growls from Death, an assortment of video images flash all over the walls of their bunker. Meanwhile, everyone turns in circles to get a good glimpse of all of them. And their Death Walker is down on his knees, gripping at his demon skull as if it was being tightened to his human head. Some of the disciples decide to rush over in concern for their Lord and leader.

TDG: “STAY BACK! Just… stay back. Allow me to check on our Lord.”

The Dark Guardian gets closer to The Dark Traveler and asks cautiously…

TDG: “My Lord… are you alright? Do you require my assistance?”

With no other way to respond at the moment, the monster shakes intensely and…

“AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHH!!!”

… lets out one of the loudest screams that he has never done at all since his return to the industry. That's when the audio plays and it is a multitude of voices… of all types of people, of all types of ages and backgrounds. Some of the snippets heard are complaints about their lives… prayers for help and a better tomorrow… even cries. Mixed in, there are testimonies of living happier lives… success stories and… the sound of joy in those exact same voices. Because amongst all this darkness that surrounds them, these are the memories and lifestyles of the people in this bunker. Each and every soul on display as their leader kneels with his head lower in a catatonic state of mind. With The Dark Guardian's jaws ready to hit the floor in amazement…

TDG: “My Lord, you’ve done it. You’ve been able to tap into the lost souls of our people. And not just tap in, you’ve motivated… you've helped to change lives for the best… YOU’VE PROVEN YOURSELF AS A LORD AMONGST THOSE WHO SEEK ANSWERS AND KNOWLEDGE. The type of knowledge that they could not easily gain from… those above.”

Just then, the images fade away into the darkness and new ones fade back in with a whole different voice… Darius Wright.




“You know, as much as I want to snap your limbs like pretzel sticks and toss your ass into the dumpster below. You're alright with me, umm… Dark Gideon is it? Oh my bad, my bad, The Dark Guardian… hm, I guess it makes sense as I’ve been on my own for so long. And I’ve had to put all my trust in myself, learn shit the only way I knew how to and it always worked out for me…”

In this particular memory, a younger Darius Wright wears a black tank top and a pair of black sweatpants standing next to a window which led to the fire escape attached to his New York studio apartment. It's dark inside the apartment, raining outside as he leans against the wall next to the window and stares at the water washing over the city. Even the first song to his first encounter with The Dark Guardian plays just as eerie as it did years ago… Saturday Night by 2 Chainz.

Darius Wright: “You say that there's a family in my future? A big one? Are you sure that you know my past?! How could I ever have a family? What is it that I could provide to a family? I’m just a man, a man who loves to fight and take out my anger on others. I- I just don't know if I’ll ever be able to carry the weight of this corrupt world on my shoulders… Oh, you’ll help me? How?”

That image freezes there and another one that is next to it plays. In this one, Darius Wright is still some years young but older than in the previous. He sits on the porch of where his childhood home was before it was burned down and a new one was built. He sports white tank top and blue jeans on this sunny afternoon, hanging out with his homeboys, drinking and laughing. The memory is fast forwarded to when The Dark Guardian appeared that same day and they spoke on that same porch…

DW: “Well if it isn't Mr. Shadows with his riddles and- and- and his empty promises of fame, fortune and family. How the fuck are you doing, you bastard? Oh you ain't got much to say, do you? DO YOU?!? I FUCKIN’ GET MY ASS HANDED TO ME ON SOME BULLSHIT TECHNICALITIES AND WHERE’S MY HELP?! Nowhere. Nowhere to be seen, nowhere to be found. Just a figment of my imagination, I suppose. Well fuck you and the dark shit you appeared with… because I’m done listening to it. I’m… I’m dizzy an- what day is it? Shit, this liquor done… done… dun dunna dun dun dunna dun dun. Woooooooooo wwweeeeeeeee hehehe, oh damn… time for a nap. You can leave now, Mr. ‘dark shit’.”

The irate man stumbles his way inside his Los Angeles home and crashes… hopefully onto something soft and comfortable. After that image freezes, there's a new one that appears and plays right next to the others. This time, Darius has a homemade balaclava over his head and is wearing a white tank top and jeans. As this hidden face version of Darius walks out the back door of his home, no dialogue is shared from his mouth. You just have a man who is either heavily drunk or sober functioning like his daily life of killing off pigeons and severely injuring locals in backyard brawls is in fact normal to him.

TDG: “I may have not been there, My Lord but I was always watching. Because like I had told you time and time again, the day would-”

The Soul Collector raises his hand to signify that he wants silence then he snaps his finger and points to a new image appearing after the current one has now stopped. The mentor along with The Terrors of Darkness watch as they see the ‘Mr. Wright, LDW World Heavyweight Champion’ persona strut his stuff along the walls. This version of Darius Wright was even more arrogant and pompous than any other as he wore black dress shirts and slacks with designer sunglasses and carried his title around in a black velvet satchel (or half cape, depending on the occasion). Out of frustration in his difficult journey, the man no longer using monikers berated all of his fans and supporters.

DW: “LOOK AT YOU, PATHETIC IMBECILES! So greedy for attention and approval that you believe I care about any of you. You see this title here? Oh my bad, it seems like you don't get to see the LDW World Heavyweight Championship. But don't worry, you can always think back to the time I won it and the night I told you where we stood from here on out.”

All 4 visuals are paused around the room with silence being the only sound until…

“Yeah… that was me. All of me.”

Death Walker lifts his head and stands to his feet. He surveys his crowd and is speaking from the PA speakers, not necessarily from his own vocal cords.

“Yes. It is, I, your Lord and leader… who was once known as Darius Wright. That was up until I buried him… alive and now you have me.”

Walker reaches for the back of his demon skull mask and he carefully removes it. Revealing his war-painted face and having no use to move his lips, he looks upon his new family and continues his talk.

Death Walker: “I am communicating through my own consciousness and I have brought all of you into my head temporarily. So I ask that you all just bear with me as I finish saying what I need to get off my chest. You see… I once used to be lost myself, quite a few times actually. But then… the right spirit found me and guided me with patience. He led me to become something more than I had ever wanted to be. He gave me new life… he gave me the opportunity to be in charge of something that… I never knew I needed. A commander of chaos… a threat to any and all forms of evil… a ruler to the unruly. I fought hard… I literally went one on one, fighting THE DEVIL himself. And after numerous failed attempts, I not only won a fight but I won his respect. I left HELL as a true Dark Traveler and a new vessel as… The Death Walker. So this mask that so many competitors have these false assumptions that it's worn to induce fear or that I am somehow ashamed of myself, let me clear that up. Darius Wright called up having others fear him, he would beg and plead for them to fear him… to show him their fears. Death Walker… however, could give two shits whether you fear him or say that you fear him because he wears a mask. I wear this demon mask as a warning… a warning to all who present themselves in FWA and that is… you either yield when I am around OR… you know what comes next from me. Now I'm not saying I have been successful at every turn. Honestly, I don't know how this game is played at this point. But what I do know is that I've been harnessing more strength, more power AND MORE RAGE TO KILL THIS PLANET IF IT MEANS SPREADING JOY TO MYSELF and those who have suffered enough pain…”

The Dark Traveler marches closer to be front and center with his people.

DW: “So as we approach this fight at Back in Business… I am prepared to put it all on the fuckin’ line. I have both of these guys right where I want them… at the same damn time. A triple threat battle… which means anything goes to get that definitive win. Everything within reach is accessible… timekeeper's bell… barricades… exposed turnbuckles… tables… ladders… chairs… and stairs, oh my. Not to mention, bats, lead pipes, cinder blocks, bricks, pizza cutters, thumbtacks, cattle prods, staplers, screwdrivers, barbed wire, hammers, aluminum trash cans, kendo sticks, glass shards, LEGO blocks, shovels and ummmmm… um, chains? I don't care if these two miserable fucks bleed to death… get concussed, burned, stabbed, cut, broken, tear a muscle, lose their teeth, lose an eye or have to be wheeled out on a stretcher because I've broken both of their legs, necks, faces AND their arms. I will take them directly on a one way trip to HELL with no pit stops and no return… I. DO NOT. GIVE A FUCK! I’M WILLING TO GO TO ANY LENGTH AT THIS POINT TO HARM THEM… AND ANYONE ELSE WHO DECIDES TO TAKE US FOR GRANTED. Are you?”

The demon gets into the face of one of his loyal disciples to make his words be understood.

DW: “Are you the children that I have taken my time… my energy to strengthen mentally, physically and emotionally? Are you ready to come with me down those ramps, to be a ringside, to be front row attendees, to pop up within the crowd on any random nights and demonstrate our havoc onto a misguided world? Are you willing to sacrifice your life and everything you can in my name? Because if you are… I can promise you this, you are ready for what comes next as we make FWA… our new home.”

And this time, the disciples scream out loud in their own rallying cries without being urged to.

“YEEEEEEEEEEAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!”
“LET’S DO IT! LET’S TEAR THEM APART”
“LET’S CORRUPT THE MINDS OF THE LOST!”
“TERRORS OF DARKNESS ARE HERE TO STAY!”
“BURN ‘EM! BURN ‘EM ALL!”

“ALL PRAISE TO DEATH WALKER!!!! HELL YEAAAHH!”

TDG: “So let's go create this home… right where our commander-in-chief does his most crafty and dangerous work. A home… that needs to be cleansed of its purity and left with madness and turmoil that most humans crave.”

There’s some flashing of the still images to signal something about to happen.

DW: “Well, that's all the time I have right now. I have to return everything back to its original state but-”

TDG: “Wait, My Lord! Is there anything else to instruct before you become non-verbal again?”

DW: “I don't see why you're asking… you already share a strong connection with my mind. But I can assure everybody that this isn't the last time that you all will hear from me. There's a change in the wind… and you’ll be able to feel it soon enough.”

The lights in the bunker flicker rapidly and then turn on… returning the murky daylight as well as the rainstorm in its original form.

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

RETURNING THE LIGHT

A few of the disciples hold discussion about the recent occurrence while the others go right back to training and whatever else they choose. The Dark Guardian exits the bunker as Death Walker attends to the young kids who have tons of curious questions. Once outside alone and under the awning as the rain starts to ease up, he speaks amongst himself… like someone is there… listening.

“And that is the reason we won't stop, we just can't. Rain may come and ruin things… making small to big messes… washing away the things that most people consider good. It also washes away the dirt… the filth…and yeah sometimes adding more grime to lives. But one thing is for sure, it does its very best… to cleanse this world before it leaves… and it returns all over again.”

“And that is why no one… no one can stop his reign.”







 

Comeback Kid

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Act I

Shawn hunched forward and held onto the reigns of his horse as she galloped through the dehydrated gravel of the desert soil. Dust kicked up behind her as she raced from the Widow’s Patch settlement - another town that Shawn would be chased out of. He became used to being chased out of towns as his reputation and the double bounty swelled with each siting of the Lightning of the West. Shawn took a moment to turn back to see his pursuers and snarled in disgust. The West, once a place without laws and seldom any people had become overrun with those from the Union wanting to make a name for themselves based on stories of a life that they had only heard of. Worse than those coming from the Union had to be the recent influx of those of Asian decent. Coming to this land, the land of opportunity, to take away the jobs and the birthright of those who built and developed this great nation from the seed of revolution the was planted with our arrival.

He sighed in relief as he examined his pursuers. It was apparent that horseback riding wasn’t their forte. They bounced uncontrollably as their steeds attempted to keep up with his. “Pathetic,” he muttered as he returned his attention to vastness of the desert in front of him. He found himself riding further and further into the desert as the years went by evading capture by those who sought revenge on him for his past deeds. When he wasn’t being chased out of revenge he was being harassed by those that wanted to build their reputation off of claiming the double bounty. The pursuers almost always ran in groups. The lot of them were cowards like that. They knew that a solo pursuit of the Lightning of the West was akin to suicide. “Better to die amongst friends than to die alone.”

His lips curled into a smirk as the quote left his lips. He chuckled at the naivety of his youth. A time when he believed that to be a guiding principal in life. A time when the Gung Ho Guns, his family, would be riding vigilantly behind him. A time where the stories of freedom were enough to keep him going.


Freedom - that was what they robbed, stole, and cheated to gain. Financial freedom. Governmental freedom. Freedom from worry. He would abandon or betray each of the members of the Guns, his family, for a piece of each of these freedoms. In his quest for Governmental freedom he would betray the trust of the Wapiti tribe - aiding Union troops in claiming their land and weakening them to a point of submission. His pursuit of financial freedom led him to frame the Stocke brothers, Noah and Eli, as the culprits behind the Braithwaite Bank robbery.

To gain a piece of Freedom from worry he would betray his right hand, Trevor. The pain of this betrayal and abandonment would weigh heavily on Shawn over the years. Each time he was chased from a town he expected to see Trevor outriding the other assailants, vengeance in his eyes as he rode toward him. Alas, he was spared this sight each time and for that he thanked God.

Shawn pulls back on the reigns of his horse as he notices the gravel of the desert starting to transition into the blue of the sky. They had reached the edge of a cliff. He peered over the edge and saw what appeared to be an endless drop. He slowly dismounted his horse and touched the gravel below with his boots. He adjusted the bandoliers that crossed over his chest and took a look out into the vastness of the desert. “This wouldn’t be such a bad grave,” he whispered as he pat the horse on his hind and yelled at her to go home.

"I thought I'd savor a smoke in my final moments," he remarked to his pursuers, who had finally caught up. A slender figure, her face concealed by a bandana, dismounted and approached Shawn with unwavering determination. "Coward," he thought silently as she snatched the cigarette from his grasp, crushing it into the soil. "Would you at least grant me the honor of beholding the face of my grim reaper?" he jested, fully aware she would remain concealed.

"I'm not your reaper. They want you alive. That's the only way we can claim the double dollars on your head," she declared, prompting cheers from the mixed group behind her, elated at the notion that only they would profit from Shawn's capture. "A shame," he responded, a disappointed hush coloring his words as he seized the woman by the arm, swiftly twisting her into a reverse chokehold. With his free hand, he snatched her six-shooter from its holster, firing successive shots at each of his adversaries. As the resounding gunshots echoed through the air, the woman watched in horror as they all crumpled at Shawn's feet—each life claimed with a single bullet. Discarding the gun, he pushed her down onto the gravel.

"Do you recall what I requested when you accosted me at the saloon? Because I do," he shouted, while the trembling woman struggled to rise. "I asked you all to leave me be, but you couldn't honor that. Look at the consequences. Your 'friends'? They're all dead. Your town? Another place I can never return to, as everyone seeks to build their names upon Shawn Summers. By God, the undertakers of these towns should cut me a check for the business I bring them, all thanks to imbeciles like you," he gestured toward her and the lifeless bodies surrounding them. "You all desire the double bounty that comes with capturing me. That's what you want. Yet, you're unprepared for the perils that lie within your pursuit. Death," he intoned, allowing his words to hang heavy in the air as the woman finally struggled to her feet, attempting to flee but stumbling in the process. Shawn fired a single shot from his revolver, sending her sprawling face-first into the dirt.

Holstering his weapon, he noticed a figure in the distance, astride a black stallion. Familiar faces rarely graces his sight. Shawn acknowledged the man’s presence with a nod, fully aware he wouldn’t pull the trigger. No, he possessed too much honor and pride. They would meet someday, and only one would survive. But that day wasn’t today. Turning his back to the man, Shawn strode away, confident that his life would continue, undeterred for now.


Act II

He appeared on the horizon with the setting sun as his backdrop. Following behind him were seven horse, one for each of the fallen bounty hunters. Their bodies of each were strung across the saddle of their former stallion much to the shock and horror of the waiting citizens of Widow’s Patch. The townspeople let out shrieks of horror and sorrow as they identified their loved ones riding into town along with the man on the black stallion. He rode with his head high but the brim of his hat covered his eyes. Although he did not ride out with them in pursuit of Summers he followed their actions from a distance - he was an observant man.

“You bastard!”shrieked a woman who’s creases and worn dark patches on her face told she had seen a lot in her day. “You dare ride them back into town after killing them? You’re no better than the man they chased.” Her words stirred a frenzy amongst the townsfolk as they turned their emotions onto the man. He sat atop his horse and took the volley of their words - if this was what they needed then he would gladly act as their verbal punching bag as they dealt with their grief. His eyes follow two Native girls as they abandon their cart of vegetables and fruits. They approach the bodies and inspect each, looking at each other knowingly.

“This man didn’t do this,” said the older of the two girls. “This is the work of the Lightning of the West,” she said mater of factly. The townspeople spoke amongst themselves none of them willing to speak out against the two girls. How could they? These two girls would know the work of the Lighting of the West better than anyone else. They were survivors of the Waipiti Massacre. They saw first hand Shawn’s work as he aided the Union troops in killing of all adult men and the majority of the young boys of their tribe in an effort to claim their land. The younger of the two girls approached the man and his horse, gently patting its coat.

“You brought them back to be reunited with their loved ones, didn’t you?” She questions as the man nods in acknowledgement. She smiles up at him and catches a glimpse of his blue eyes. “There is much pain and regret behind those eyes of yours. Don’t be ashamed of it,” she says as he attempts to bring his gaze away from hers. “I can help cleanse you of that if you will allow, sir. Please, come with us,” she insists as she leads the man and her sister to their small home within the town. She instructed her sister to fetch water for the tin tub that sat in the corner of the room. She instructed the man to strip and enter. He was reluctant at first but obliged. His body was rattled with scars from many bar fights and gun battles.

Sitting in the tub, he felt an unusual vulnerability. As the sisters gradually poured water into the basin, a sense of relief washed over him. "Our people believe that cleansing not only washes away the physical grime but also purges the mental and emotional weight," she explained, employing a cloth to cleanse his body. "You've borne guilt upon your shoulders for far too long. Let me cleanse you of it. You can't confront Shawn burdened by doubt and remorse. He harbors no doubts in his heart. He feels no guilt for his deeds. Everything he's done, he believes to be justified... in his twisted mind," she uttered while scrubbing his flesh.

The man dresses himself as the two women pour the water from his bath into the gravel outside. “Thank you,” he says to them. The first words he had uttered aloud since following them home. “Don’t thank us. Just kill Shawn,” says the older sister causing the man to stop in his tracks. “As long as lightning strikes the west our people cannot rest peacefully.” The man nods reassuringly at the two sisters before mounting his horse. The man mounts his horse and carefully makes his way towards the exit of the town.

"Do you know what lies ahead in toppling Shawn Summers?" a voice beckoned from a distance. The man scanned his surroundings, quickly locating the source as a figure emerged from the alleyway between two homes. Gazing up at the man, the stranger smiled, approaching cautiously with palms raised in a gesture of harmlessness. "I've been observing you, Thomas, and I must admit, I'm impressed.”

"And who might you be?" Thomas inquired as the man bestowed a sugar cube upon his horse. Placing another cube in his own mouth, he looked up at Thomas. The face seemed familiar, recalling wanted posters that were eventually replaced by Shawn's likeness.

"Ah, I see you've recognized me," the man acknowledged, retrieving a cigarette and lighter from his pocket. After lighting it, he took a long drag, pausing between puffs to speak. "It's impolite to respond to a question with another question, Mr. Bedlam," he quipped. "I asked if you know what awaits you upon toppling Shawn Summers. Slaying him will place a target on your back, as well as those of your loved ones. It's a burden he carries, and I can assure you, he wouldn't wish it upon anyone but himself. Killing Shawn won't mend the West; it will only shift the weight of his titles onto your shoulders, Thomas. Are you prepared to shoulder that burden and all that accompanies it? Are you ready to become him?”

Act III

Thomas rode for miles until he reached Shawn’s cabin Shawn’s cabin, a serene abode nestled by a pond, encompassed by nature's vibrant palette of greens, blues, and browns. To think that a place as beautiful as this was where someone like Shawn called him was mind boggling. Thomas pulled his attention back to the task at hand as he spotted Shawn sitting on the steps of the cabin, his revolver in hand, as if he had been waiting. Shawn let’s out a deep sigh and stands to his feet, yawning as he approached Thomas as if he were approaching an old friend instead of a foe.

"Have you settled your affairs, Thomas? You'll regret it if you haven't," Shawn said, standing a few feet away. He smirked, locking eyes with the cowboy's icy blue gaze. "No matter how many times I experience this moment, it still sends shivers down my spine," he continued, pointing at his arm where the hairs stood on end. "I feel like a child on Christmas morning, knowing exactly what awaits me." Shawn's attention shifted to the lush grass beneath their feet, a stark contrast to the desert gravel they once traversed. "You'll make fine fertilizer for my yard. It's been a while since I've contributed to the nature around me, but I knew someone like you would come along. There's always someone like you, thinking they can accomplish what others have failed. Seeking to claim the title of the man who brought down the Lightning of the West," he chuckled. "You're not unique, Thomas. And your demise won't be either. I'll put a single bullet in you. Perhaps this time, I'll aim for the heart. It's been a while since I've done that."

Thomas grips his gun and Shawn waves him off with annoyance as he continues to walk around his property ignoring the danger that would be Thomas. “You know, I thought this year would be different. I thought I would finally get the freedom I’d sought. How foolish I was. All the newcomers to the west wanted to make a quick name for themselves, and well, there went my year,” Shawn said with a laugh as he ponders what the year would’ve been. “I can’t let you take my titles, Thomas. I worked hard to earn these titles and this reputation and I wont let you or anyone else get in the way of my freedom.”

“I guess that puts us in a conundrum, Shawn,” Thomas answers much to his surprise. “I came here to cleanse the West of you and take that double bounty. I need the titles you hold and your bounty for my family.” Shawn laughs dramatically at Thomas’ reasoning for searching him out.

“You want to be the lightning of the west? You want the title of the most feared man in the West and the double bounty on my head so you can take care of your family? Are you thick in the head? Men like me and those who want what I have can’t have a family!” Shawn shouts at Thomas as paces back and forth.

In the blink of an eye, Shawn drew his gun and shot Thomas' hand that clutched the six-shooter in his holster. Thomas cried out in pain, his hand bleeding, his index finger barely holding on by a thread of skin. Shawn approached as Thomas writhed in agony.

“You don’t have what it takes to take what’s mine, Thomas. None of you do. Heavy is the head that wears the crown. That’s what they say, right? Even if you were to take what’s mine, then what? How long would you hold not the title of the baddest man in the west? How long would you be the lightning of the West, Thomas?”

The sound of a gun firing echoes throughout the area sending birds scurrying from trees. Shawn holds his oblique and can feel the wet warmth of the blood coming from his side. He looks down at Thomas who grips a small pistol in his non dominant hand, the barrel smoking from the expulsion of the bullet currently lodged in Shawn.

“We’ll just have to see. Right, Shawn”

Shawn smirks at Thomas as he grips his side. He was impressed with the young cowboy. He fell to the ground beneath him and could feel himself getting weaker. His blood mixing with the soil beneath nursing it. Thomas approached Shawn with confidence as the sky above began to rumble. He marveled at the dullness of the clouds for a moment before returning his attention to Shawn. Shawn pointed a gun at Thomas.

“It’s not my time” he said

Epilogue
The town of Widow's Patch lay quiet beneath the night sky. Most homes were enveloped in darkness as their residents slumbered peacefully. However, one house emanated a solitary glow. As one drew closer, the sound of a crying child permeated the air. A blanket rustled, followed by footsteps approaching the distressed infant. There stood Shawn Summers, his once-blonde hair now darkened entirely. A small mustache adorned his face, and his eyes gazed fondly at the weeping child, likely his son. He cradled the infant tenderly, soothingly.

"Don't fret, little one. I don't mind staying up with you. I can sleep when I'm dead," he said with a smirk, rocking the baby gently. "How about I tell you a tale? It's about a man with the swiftest draw in all the West. They say he was so quick with his gun that the only glimpse one caught before the bullet struck was the flash of his golden hair. Thus, he became known as the Lightning of the West." Shawn smiled, reminiscing about his past as he lulled his young son to sleep.

BOOK Two


Act I



Shawn gazed up at the ceiling, rafters, and scaffolding that held the arena lights together, a sense of familiarity enveloping him despite the change in venues. The blaring sound of Bon Jovi’s “Wanted Dead or Alive” echoed throughout the arena as he summoned the strength to lift himself out of the ring. Kneeling down, he locked eyes with his partner, Mike Parr, expecting to witness remorse, anger, or perhaps annoyance in the eyes of a man with whom he had shared every conceivable emotion. Yet, there was nothing in those eyes—devoid of the spirit and drive they once possessed. They appeared hollow.





Shawn pondered if the acid trip he took with Michael had brought about this emptiness, but he couldn’t be certain. They rarely spoke about their individual experiences during those trips. Shawn believed that such an encounter would draw him and Michael closer as allies, sharing a common bond. But how could that ever work? Shawn wasn’t willing to disclose the complete details of his trip to Michael. Despite their camaraderie at that moment, there was always the lingering possibility of a shift, of standing across each other as enemies once again. The thought of an adversary having knowledge of his conversation with his late father, of their resentments and the guilt he harbored even in death, was something Shawn couldn’t bear. He couldn’t afford such vulnerability.





Slowly, Shawn crawled toward Parr, patting him on the shoulder. The Prodigy glanced over, raising an eyebrow before shaking his head in disappointment. Unexpectedly, Shawn extended his arm and embraced Parr with one arm. Whispers escaped his lips, “I’m sorry, but thank you for trusting me,” as he held his former adversary. The cameras had ceased rolling, and the crowd paid no attention to them. In that moment, they were brothers in defeat, although Shawn knew they would soon revert to being adversaries. He hoped to see Michael in better spirits as time went on, but he couldn’t help feeling sorrow for his old foe.





Gingerly, Shawn rose to his feet and made his way through the backstage curtain. He half-expected to be greeted by wrestlers and producers congratulating them on a good match, but only one person awaited him. Randi stood frozen as Shawn ascended the small platform leading to the main stage area. She must have assumed Tommy would be among the first to see her, but her surprise grew as Der Bastard himself approached.





Unbeknownst to Randi at that moment, she would soon learn that when it came to priorities, she ranked last in her wrestling baby daddy’s life. Wrestling would always occupy the top spot for him, followed closely by the fans and their opinions. The child they shared would claim the third position, leaving Randi with the lowest priority. Shawn had always thought it must be a desolate existence being the spouse of a wrestler, knowing you would never hold the top spot.





Taking a few steps down from the platform, he stood a few feet away from Randi. It hadn’t occurred to him before, but even in her pregnant state, he understood why Tommy didn’t mind her carrying his child. She possessed beauty, but more importantly, she was there for him. Shawn gazed at her a few seconds longer, contemplating why Tommy would subject her to everything she had endured over the past months. To expose the mother of your child to stress and potential harm for the sake of winning a mere ten pounds of gold seemed insane to Shawn. The insignificance of those ten pounds became apparent when you had someone like Randi waiting for you at home.





Thoughts of what life would be like with someone like Randi crossed Shawn’s mind. He could envision coming down for breakfast before setting off on the road, his wife preparing his plate while he packed his final bags. His two sons, if he were fortunate enough to have them, would be at the table, eagerly waiting to share what they wanted him to do and the gifts they hoped he would bring back. The vision was vivid, but he knew that life wasn’t meant for him.





Suddenly, he realized he had been fixated on Randi, staring at her in an almost eerie manner since his arrival backstage. Snapping back to reality, he began, “Hey, look, I’m sorr—” Before he could complete his sentence, the hot sting of Randi’s slap struck his face. She swiftly moved away from Shawn, leaving him in disbelief at what had just transpired. “Fucking bitch,” he muttered under his breath, redirecting his attention to Randi, who was finally joined by Tommy. Shawn locked eyes with Tommy, witnessing the fury within them as he pulled Randi close. A smirk crept across Shawn’s face as he chuckled to himself. The sheer sight of Shawn Summers evoked such a visceral reaction from Tommy—it struck him as comical.





Attempting to clutch his championship belts close to him, Shawn realized they were nowhere to be found. Panic welled up within him as he scanned the surroundings. In that moment, he realized that the most important thing in his life wasn’t a person. It was a thing. He couldn’t help but wonder to himself were him and Tommy similar in the fact that they cared more about ten pounds of gold than someone that could give them the validation and love that they both desperately yearned for?





A referee approached and handed the titles to Shawn, who snatched them away, clutching them tightly as he gazed at Tommy and Randi. They had each other but Shawn knew that deep down inside Tommy wanted what he had.


_________________________________________________________








Act II








Shawn leaned against a pillar at the Aeropuerto Internacional Benito Juarez, observing the fans who gathered to welcome their beloved FWA wrestlers upon their arrival. Wearing gold-rimmed Ray-Ban aviator sunglasses, he shielded his eyes while witnessing the crowd swarm around the wrestlers, showering them with warm greetings, autograph requests, and photo opportunities. However, even behind his sunglasses, the look of disgust etched upon Shawn’s face remained apparent. It came as no surprise to him that the fans barely acknowledged his presence among them.





None of the fans dared approach him, while some glared, but their actions meant nothing to him. When it came to interacting with Shawn in person, the wrestlers and fans shared much in common. They preferred to save their tough words and acts of bravado for the internet or times when they knew Shawn couldn’t reach them. He held a low opinion of the current FWA roster, including his Back in Business opponent.





Shawn wondered if the fans would still swarm the wrestlers if they knew how much of a coward their favorite wrestlers truly were. It didn’t escape him that since winning the Television and X Championships, the number of wrestlers clamoring for title shots and opportunities had dwindled from a loud roar to a mere whisper. Even when an open challenge for the Television Championship was extended, only one challenger emerged.





The realization pained him—that these wrestlers, or rather, these cowards, were considered the future of FWA. They called themselves the “new guard” at times, but it was a joke to label them as any sort of guard. How could they view themselves as the next stars of FWA, and why would the fans accept them as such? The “new guard” consisted of wannabe joshi and little girls playing dress-up, afraid of internet confrontation and easily triggered by strangers’ words from thousands of miles away. To think that this was the same company from a year ago was laughable.





As Shawn continued to judge both the fans and wrestlers with his critical gaze, he couldn’t help but notice the eruption of cheers and the stampede of fans rushing towards the arrival of the American Cowboy, Thomas Bedlam. It seemed almost impossible for Tommy to make his way through the fans as they clamored to be in his presence. Shawn scoffed at how much Tommy reveled in this attention. He scanned the area, searching for Randi and noticed that she had been separated from Tommy. Amusement flickered across Shawn’s lips as she attempted to reunite with the wrestling star to no avail. Her realization of reality was slowly sinking in.





Amidst the cheers and requests, Shawn couldn’t help but overhear fellow FWA wrestlers proclaiming Tommy as the future champion. He rolled his eyes at the fake encouragement bestowed upon Tommy by his peers. Shawn wasn’t oblivious to the fact that a vocal majority desired Tommy to dethrone him at Back in Business. He was used to having no support from fans or his peers. However, their support and encouragement for Tommy to overcome him angered him. Not because he sought their support—he knew it would never come, and he wanted no part of it—but because he knew they viewed Tommy as an easier champion to defeat than Shawn himself. In their minds, defeating Shawn Summers for the championship was akin to conquering Mount Everest. So why not let someone else tackle the mountain and then claim the prize and riches when they were exhausted and descending from the summit?





Their motives were transparent, fueling Shawn’s growing disdain for them. Amidst the sea of people, Tommy noticed Shawn and came to a halt. Shawn half-heartedly waved to his opponent. Painful as it was for Tommy to admit, he knew that Shawn had given him an out during the Grand March. Winning by disqualification wasn’t a spur-of-the-moment idea conjured by Summers to retain his championship. It had always been his intention, and Tommy knew it. Shawn had given him the chance to step away and avoid the fire he was toying with. Tommy wouldn’t be as fortunate at Back in Business.





Shawn adjusted the Television and X Championship belts on his shoulders and walked toward the exit of the airport, deliberately walking near Randi. Clutching the championship belts close to his chest, he approached her, raising both belts high above her.





“Tell me, Randi, what captures his attention? These championships or you?” He queried, smirking at her as they both turned their gazes to Tommy. Tommy looked at the X-Championship and then at the Television Championship before turning his gaze of fury at Shawn Summers. He finally looked at Randi. The answer to Shawn’s question seemed apparent in that moment.


________________________________________


Act III








The vastness of Estadio Azteca was apparent as Shawn looked for a seat that was far enough so that he wouldn’t be noticed but close enough so that he could still hear and see the going ons around him. They were less than 24 hours away from night one of Back in Business and the stadium was filled with talent waiting for their chance to practice their entrance for the show. Shawn cringed as he thought back to his entrance from the year prior. He loved Lana and was forever grateful that she did what she did for him when it came to his entrance last year, but it was hardly necessary. The fans didn’t appreciate the thought that went into it and the significance of that moment for him. All of that pageantry meant nothing to them, and in the grand scheme of things it meant nothing to him either. All that matters is who walked out of Back in Business as the winner. He couldn’t fathom walking into Back in Business for a second time and walking out with nothing.





Time went by as he sat in the stands watching the entrances and counting down the hours until he would make his actual entrance into the arena. He was startled by the sound of footsteps approaching. He thought he was far enough removed from public view that no one would see or be able to find him. Shawn turns to find the source of the footsteps and can’t help but smile when he sees his trainer, Cesar Pineda standing on the steps behind him.





Cesar may not be a wrestler known by the vast majority of the FWA but those who did know of him respected him. Although he wasn’t much older than Shawn he still remained one of the only people that commanded and received respect from him. Cesar stood tall at six foot and although he’d been retired from the business for quite sometime he remained toned. Shawn had sent word to Cesar asking if he’d join him here but didn’t expect to see him. He expected no one to be in his friends and family section this weekend. He felt as though Cesar should be the one wrestling and experiencing the reaction in this arena and not him. Shawn was always selfless when it came to Cesar. Cesar was like the older brother that Shawn always wanted but never got. Cesar taught him things about the business and the sport that he would forever be grateful for.





“Do you miss any of this?” Shawn asks Cesar. Shawn wasn’t sure what response he had expected to receive from him. Cesar left the business at the top of his game and could’ve went on to become a world champion at some point. He had to miss the business and moments like this. Right?





“Would you miss it if you left,” Cesar responded. The question lingered in the air as Shawn took a moment to think about it. Would he miss anything about this business if he left? The business had taken everything from him in some way or another. The business had left him without friends. The business had taken and destroyed his reputation. This business had assassinated his character. The business had been terrible to him and yet he was still prepared to break his body in half for it. What would his life be if he choose to leave the business for good? He couldn’t imagine coming this far to drop his titles to someone who didn’t feel deserved them. He also didn’t want to give the roster the satisfaction of seeing Shawn Summers losing on the biggest stage again. But why did he care? They didn’t care about him. No one in the business cared about Shawn Summers.





“I wish I had never joined it,” Shawn responded as Cesar simply nodded his head in acknowledgment of Shawn’s feelings. Cesar further questioned whether Shawn was nervous for his match up against Tommy in an attempt to break the silence left by his previous question. Shawn wasn’t nervous though. He knew that to be fact. However, he was afraid of what victory for Tommy meant for him. He rose from his seat and took one last look around the stadium. It wasn’t lost on him that every seat in that arena would be filled with a fan cheering for and hoping for him to lose everything at the event. However, it brought solace to him to know that in two of those chairs there would be occupied by people that wanted him to win. In one of those chairs would be Cesar, his mentor. In the other chair would be Randi.
 

SupineSnake

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Sting Ray in 420 WORDS.

The lights come up in a theatre and, the sound of his hiking boots thudding against the boards echoing, Sting Ray walks out into the spotlight. For once, though, he looks stern and serious and, even more surprisingly, unscarred. He has had his hands on his hips since arrival but, now that he is in position in the singular spotlight, he lifts a finger up and points it at the audience.

"Allow me to introduce myself –"

"Wait! Everybody wait!!"

The interruption from JAY! is sudden. Ray has to break character and is no longer serious or stern or unscarred. He now appears anxious (naturally).

"The lighting isn't right!"

"What's wrong with it?" Harry.

"That spotlight isn't even pink! Lighting guy! Pinker spotlight!"

"It has a pink tinge," Thomas.

"No dice! Do you think that the great, esteemed Funky Fedora is going to have bad lighting?! nGw's production values, whilst hardly being the height of professionalism, are certainly higher than CDW's. We might get away with that ramshackle stuff up in the COSMIC! Zone… but this is BIB! Pinker, I say!"

The spotlight gets brighter and more pink.

"Okay, from the top!"

Sting Ray sighs and walks from the stage, repeating his entrance and - the facade of toughness a little less realistic and believable this time.

"Allow me to introduce myself –"

"Stop! Everybody stop!"

"What do you mean 'everybody'?" Maid. "It's just him."

"Somebody is talking. Just as Sting Ray's about to start! How's he meant to focus?!"

"Huh?" Harry.

"Do you think Funky Fedora has to put up with such distractions! I'm sure that he's been in the lab, working with Bell and all of the others at the Enhanced Performance Centre. And we're here, stumbling over each others lines and interrupting each other! We need to be unified!!"

"I didn't hear anyone?" NOE-I.

"Really?!" Uncle. "I heard it clear as day! Twice now, Sting Ray has walked onto the stage, and twice someone has shouted at for him to stop or wait."

"That was you," Thomas.

"... was it? Maybe you're right. I'll try to control myself. From the top!"

Sting Ray stopped short of shaking his head but his body language suggested his frustration. Once again, he walked from the stage and re-entered.

"Allow me to introduce myself –"

"Wait!" Uncle declared, at the top of his lungs. Every set of eyes in the auditorium turned back to JAY!.

"What now?" Thomas.

"420 words! Guess it'll have to do."
 
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Doc Sulliday

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Bellatrix Bordeaux and The Ravenwood Sisters in…

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And the Order of The Coven

CLICK HERE

Bellatrix Bordeaux and The Ravenwood Sisters in…
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And the Order of The Coven



Chapter I: The Amulet

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“What an idiot.” Blair mutters under her breath as she watches Trixie, who’s decked out in full Indiana Jones cosplay, brown leather jacket and iconic fedora included.

The dotty young woman looks to be having a blast as she cracks her whip against the trees of the Mesoamerican Forest in Southwestern Mexico.

WHOP-EESH!

The whip cracks at it violently attacks the innocent tree bark, with Trixie giggling playfully at the cool sound her new toy makes.

“What the heck does Kleio see in this fool, anyway?” Blair asks, a look of annoyance on her face as she shakes her head disapprovingly.

“I dunno,” Celestia responds, shrugging, “but whatever it is, it isn’t her intelligence.”

Celestia seems amused as she watches Trixie jump, roll and tumble along the forest floor, cracking her whip all the while, looking as though she’s waging intense combat against many imaginary foes.

WHOP-EESH!

Trying to take her mind off of the fact that she has to suffer Trixie’s company for the duration of this mission, Blair asks; “What’re we doing out here anyway?”

“We’re searching for an old Aztec amulet that’s said to grant the wearer immeasurable luck and good fortune.” Celestia responds, a smirk forming on her face as she imagines what she could accomplish with such power. “The Aztecs used this good fortune to grow some corn, the silly simpletons, but in our hands, well, imagine all we could do if we could freely wield the power of luck.”

Blair turns her head to look at Trixie, who’s still WHOP-EESHing her way through the forest, before accidentally whipping herself, causing her to yelp “OWW!” in pain, before rubbing the boo-boo on her leg. Trixie’s suffering, however minor, causes a sinister smirk to form on Blair’s face, looking as though she’s relishing in Trixie’s pain, before turning her attention back to her sister.

“So, where is this amulet rumoured to be?”

“It’s apparently located in a cave, which is hidden behind a waterfall. My contact told me that there’s a stone pillar located somewhere in the middle of this damn forest, and that the waterfall is directly south of the pillar.”

“And how do you know all this?” Blair asks, unconvinced.

“...Ethel.” Celestia responds.

“...Ethal.” Blair says, becoming even more sceptical.

“Yes, Ethel.”

“You mean to tell me, that you brought us all the way out here, to the middle of nowhere, and your only source for this information is a mad, rambling, ancient old lady that was literally freaking dead all of a few weeks ago?” Blair says, looking at her sister with a mix of shock and frustration.

“Yup.”

Blair shakes her head, absolutely dumbfounded at her sister.

“Well, maybe I was wrong…”

“About what?” Celestia asks.

“Well, judging by your sheer stupidity!” Blair yells spitefully at her younger sister, “and the fact that I was stupid enough to join you on this adventure! I guess it turns out that Trixie’s low IQ brain is the smartest one here!”

“HEY!” Celestia shouts, looking incredibly insulted. Trixie meanwhile, looks at Blair with no small amount of gratitude.

“Y-You think I’m smart?” Trixie asks, looking taken aback and moved by Blair’s “kind” words.

“THAT’S NOT WHAT I-...” Blair pauses as she glares back and forth between both Trixie and Celestia. “...I’m going home!”

Blair turns back the way they came, and comes to a halt, her jaw dropping in shock and confusion. Only a few metres in front of her, in a place that she had just walked over, stands a giant, battered looking stone pillar.

Celestia dons a smug look as she stares at her speechless older sister.

“Well, off you go, then! I’m sure Trixie and I can manage without you.” Celestia says, a playfully mischievous expression plastered on her face. “Right, Trixie?”

“Huh?” Trixie asks, looking just as dumbfounded as Blair at seeing the pillar magically appear from seemingly nowhere.

“See! We don’t need you, sis, so run along! Trixie, let’s go…we’re heading south.”

“B-But, we’re already in the south!” Trixie shouts, confused, as Celestia walks past the seemingly magical pillar, and further into the dense forest.

As Trixie chases after Celestia, Blair pauses for but a brief moment, before an idea pops into her cunning mind… if this amulet really does exist, then surely there’ll be no shortage of traps, curses, and other defensive measures in place to protect such a powerful artefact. Blair wouldn’t want her naive little sister to walk aimlessly into such deadly contraptions, which would no doubt result in Celestia getting seriously injured, or worse… no, Blair wouldn’t allow that. Why should she or Celestia have to risk their lives for this amulet, when there’s a perfectly good human shield tagging along for the ride?

“Why kill two birds with one stone?” The elder Ravenwood asks herself, with a sinister smile, “when we have a sacrificial lamb.”

…and with that thought at the forefront of her mind, Blair jogs after her sister, and their soon to be dearly departed tagalong…

…if Blair has her way, that is.

Meanwhile, Trixie asks Celestia an important question. “So, who used to own this necklace thingy anyway?” the witch wannabe shouts out towards Celestia, who’s marching ahead through the jungle.

Celestia turns back with a mischievous smirk. “Who owned it? Before the Aztecs? Well…it’s the Amulet of Mictlantecuhtli…” she says.

“Mitch who? I know a Mitch. He’s Mexican…good guy.” Trixie says confused.

“Not Mitch. Mictlantecuhtli” Celestia responds. “The Aztec God of Death. You can only imagine what an Amulet of his has the power to do…” she says ambitiously.

Trixie gulps. “Yeah…I can only imagine.”

Suddenly, the two are startled to find Blair back behind them. Trixie looks excited to see her friend again, but Celestia rolls her eyes.

“Blair! I’m so glad you’re back!” Trixie says as she hugs the older witch, much to Blair’s annoyance as she shoves her away.

“Look…I was thinking…” Blair says meticulously, as she continues “Kleio wanted us to initiate young Trixie here into The Coven right…well, I may not agree with this hunt for some relic that may or may not exist. BUT…it may be the perfect initiation for Trixie. If she finds it? Then, she has my vote to be an official member of our group!”

Trixie is beaming with glee. “OH MY GOD! YAY!” she says.

Meanwhile, Celestia glares at her sister suspiciously. This is definitely an unusual change of heart for Blair. She’s up to something, and Celestia is going to figure out what.

Chapter II: The Search for Mictlantecuhtli

The enthusiasm with which Celestia marched away from the pillar, making a b-line south with the intent to prove her sister wrong and rub her face in it…well, seven hours of nonstop hiking later, and that enthusiasm has greatly diminished.

So too has the abundance of energy that Trixie had exhibited when she was fighting the imaginary bad guys earlier in the day. Now, the young woman can be observed dragging her whip, as well as her feet, along the forest floor, with an exhausted demeanour about her.

“Are we there yet?” Trixie asks in a tired voice, yawning almost immediately after asking the question.

Blair, the only one of the trio who seems to have a molecule of energy remaining, rolls her eyes.

“No.” Blair responds bluntly. “We’re not far, though.”

“How can you tell?” Celestia asks, curiously.

“You hear that?” Blair responds with a question of her own.

The trio stops and listens. Off into the distance, the unmistakable sound of crashing water can be heard.

“Water…” Trixie responds.

“Surprised you know what that is, Trixie.” Blair quips, but not in a playful way.

As Trixie looks confusedly at Blair, wondering why Blair would think that she has never heard of water before, the elder Ravenwood sister marches towards the sound of the potential waterfall, with Celestia, and then finally Trixie, taking up the rear.

After a few more minutes of painful walking, the trio reach their destination.

But suddenly, Blair pulls both her partners into the bushes when they hear a set of unfamiliar voices. They all duck down quietly. “Do you hear that?” Blair whispers. They look up, and see three distinctively tall individuals. Two of which have huge beards.

Celestia looks furious at them as the witches stay hidden. “Do you know who they are?” Celestia asks angrily. Trixie nods just as angry “Nazis…” she says under her breath.

“NO. Not Nazis you idiot…what? Why would they be Nazis?”

“It’s always Nazis isn’t it?” Trixie asks.

“No, this isn’t a movie. They’re Lumberjacks!” Blair says.

“Oh…well…Nazis woulda made a lot more sense. What are Lumberbacks doing out here in the jungle. OH…they’re probably just cutting down trees. Damn these industrialists and their destruction of the rainforest”.

Blair cuts her off. “No Trixie, you don’t understand, they’re after the Amulet too. We can’t let them get it. Everybody in the tournament is probably after it…that means we have to hurry”.

The three of them sneak past the trio, who are quite clearly just cutting down trees, and make their way down towards the waterfall. They walk right through the water and into a cave behind it.

There they know they’ve reached somewhere important. Celestia looks excited, as she looks up towards a large Aztec golden statue.

But how do they get in?

Celestia spends some time studying it. When Trixie simply walks up, and touches something on the statue…and the entire thing begins to move open! It reveals a set of stairs that go down below.

“Wow…” Trixie says. Celestia is dumbfounded…”How did you know to do that?” she asks. “I didn’t…I just wanted to give him a high five is all.”

Blair rolls her eyes as the three of them go deep inside. They reach a long dark corridor that looks innocent enough. Celestia is about to truck ahead, but Blair pulls her arm back.

“Uh, if the Lumberjacks are here that means that the rest of the Trios tournament must be here too. Nephews, Death Squad, Necessary Evil…I think, Trixie, your footsteps are a lot quieter than ours. You should go first…” Blair says cunningly.

Trixie smiles and gives a loud “Okie dokie!” as she begins forward. As soon as she’s a little bit ahead, Celestia pulls Blair aside and whispers “What is going on? What are you planning?”.

Blair smiles back at her sister. “This place is surely filled with traps. Let Trixie go first…next thing you know she’s got an old Aztec Arrow in the head and she’s out of our hair for good”. Celestia seems unimpressed, but lets Trixie go ahead nevertheless.

Trixie skips carelessly ahead, whistling a jolly tune without a care in the world. Unbeknownst to her, missing every arrow from every trap that shoots her way. It turned out, the arrows had a delay.

By the time she reaches the end of the hallway she turns around, and sees her two partners covered in arrows themselves and looking quite angry.

“Ouch, you two don’t look too good…” Trixie says innocently, not even noticing the scowls from Blair and Celestia.

The three continue into a giant auditorium type of room. “You know, I’m surprised we haven’t run into anyone else from the trios tournament yet. We saw those lumberjack people already…even though they didn’t look like the lumberjacks…” Trixie trails off.

“Uh, Trixie…” Blair cuts her off. “I’m sure they’re already here. We just have to be alert.

“Yeah, you never know how cunning people down here can be…” Celestia says as she glares at her sister.

Suddenly, Trixie steps on a stone…that results in a giant pendulum to come swinging down from the ceiling. It nearly takes Trixie out, but Celestia jumps in the way to push her out as she gets knocked down by the pendulum. Blair looks on angrily, as that could’ve been a great chance to take down Trixie…

Meanwhile, all Trixie notices is the door that just opened up. “Look, a door!” she says as she runs ahead into the darkness.

Celestia gets up and yells at her sister. “This isn’t what Kleio wants!” she says.

“Who cares what Kleio wants? Where even has Kleio been? What has she been doing? For months now she’s left us with this…this fool. We should be competing for the Trios Championships with her. And instead she’s doing what? Who even knows…while we’re stuck here with Trixie.

If Kleio was competing at Back in Business, we’d have a chance to win those things. But right now it’s like, why even bother? Little Trixie is just going to keep holding us down. And Kleio…Kleio wants her to be a part of the group?

Over my dead body…” Blair says.

“Careful Blair…that’s a bold thing to say inside the tomb of the Aztec God of Death…” Celestia retorts as the sisters move on into the darkness.

Chapter III: The Tomb of Hatred

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As the three girls head down into the dark temple, each of them make a terrifying discovery…they are all alone. Somehow in the darkness, they’ve become separated.

And now Celestia finds herself in a dark room. The golden door slides shut behind her. And she soon realises that she has no way out. The walls begin to close in and Celestia panics.

“Say the name of the one you hate the most,” she hears whisper. Celestia begins to panic as she realises there’s no other way out. She thinks…who does she hate the most?

“The Nephews!” she shouts. The walls do not stop inching closer together. “Maid of Death…NOE-I, Halruzh! They’re all posers…what have they done to deserve a shot at Trios Gold? Ridden the coattails of Uncle and Michelle von Horrowitz? Anyone in that cult is who I hate the most…now stop these damn walls!” she shouts.

But the walls keep closing in.

Soon enough, they’re almost feet away from each other as Celestia tries effortlessly to keep them from closing in with her legs, but to no avail.

“Uh…uh…The Lumberjacks, Reagan Cole, jackson Fenix…” she says….but the walls keep closing in.

In that moment…she accepts death and closes her eyes. But then she opens her eyes and she shouts “Blair! I hate Blair okay. I hate that she thinks she knows everything. I hate that she is trying to sabotage any chance The Coven has of growing. I hate that she’s so power hungry!” and just like that…the walls stop.

She lets out a sigh of relief.


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In another room, Trixie finds herself in a similar conundrum.

The door closes behind her. And suddenly she can’t breathe, as poison gas begins to fill the room.

“Say the name of the one you hate the most” she hears. “Uh, I don’t hate anyone weird voice!” she shouts back.

“Everyone is my friend…I guess I’m supposed to hate the people in this trios tournament? Um, maybe Necessary Evil? But TYLER seems nice…and so does Reagan Cole…and so does Jeffry Mason. I don’t know!”

“Uhm…I hate…bad people in the world…”

She begins to choke on the air. It’s beginning to become harder and harder to breath.

“Ummm…I don’t know! Please…” she gasps…
Finally in her last gasp of air she says it.

“I hate myself…”

And suddenly she can breath again.

“I hate that I don’t think I’m good enough. I hate that I’m never going to win a championship. I hate that I’m probably going to be the reason why we lose at Back in Business. I wish I was better than I was…but I’m not…I just…I hate everything about myself. I hate that I’m going to let my friends down…I hate it…I hate it…”

Suddenly, the door slides open.





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In one last room is Blair. Who, like the others finds herself in the same exact position. The voice had already said “Say the name of the one you hate the most” and Blair had already named off every name in the trios tournament. With a specific emphasis on The Death Squad, a team she thought used a name that was quite the opposite of who they truly were. Why call yourself the Death Squad when you’re a bunch of cute forrest animals?

As Blair gasped for air, she was able to lift herself up above the water that had already nearly reached the ceiling…before finally giving it the answer it wanted.

“Kleio!” and just like that the water began to stop.



Chapter IV: The Final Prize

The three find themselves back together once again…and it was all worth it, because to their shock standing in front of them is the amulet.

Trixie goes to get it first, but Blair pushes her out of the way and grabs it for herself.

Suddenly however, the amulet disappears.

The three girls are shocked.

And that’s when they hear clapping. They turn around, and joining them are none other than Kleio De Santos and Grandma Ethel.

“What? What are you doing here?” Blair shouts.

“Testing you all” Kleio tells the group. “I had Ethel tell Celestia about the amulet, so you all would go on this journey. And you passed. You needed to face your truest fears. Admit the ones you hated the most, and most importantly...work together. I have no doubts now that not only is Trixie capable of joining our group, but that you Blair and Celestia will make fine members as well.

This group is a sisterhood. And as a sisterhood, we need to be willing to admit our faults, our hatreds…and our fears.

Now that we’ve done that..are you ready to win the Trios Championships?”
 

Jazz Wolf

Friendship Wolf
Joined
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Age
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The Pillow Fort
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shannonmoore
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Faces.

Too many faces.

Staring, shouting, cheering, jeering.

A cacophony of noises, of eyes, of stares, of stimulation overload.

It all blended together into a white noise, loud enough to drum into his ears and echo within his bones, and yet, the rhythmic thump of his heartbeat was still louder, deafening. A wall of colors, of hues, of mixes flashing before his eyes as he took a staggered step after another, not even sure where he was going, only that he had to go, he had to get away, before He caught up with him, before He dragged him back into His den, before he found himself strapped and cuffed in a cage of cotton once again, at the whims and graces of Him.

The uproar increased, the shades warped and groaned, and every trip, every stumble, felt like a mile-high setback. The exit never grew any closer - if there was an exit at all, that is. There were only shapes, leering and jeering in at him as he slipped. He didn’t want to turn, didn’t want to look behind him, in case He was right behind him, dulled claws outstretched to clasp him on the shoulder and steer him back into His waiting arms. And yet, he didn’t know where he was going - he only knew it was a direction away from Him, and that was good enough.

With a hoarse gasp, he lost his footing, stumbling onto the slick ground. The ground crunched beneath him, cracking under his frame, and for a moment, the briefest of moments, the thought of staying there entered his mind. He was so tired. How long had he been running for? Couldn’t have been more than a few minutes, surely. But it felt like hours. His joints ached, his nerves shrieked, his body begged for rest.

It would be so easy to give up.

But giving up to himself would mean giving in to Him.

The thought gave him enough cause to rise back to a vertical base, and continue the staggered jaunt, as the noises and the shapes bellowed and clamored at him.

There was a grip on his arm, a sudden clench on his wrist, and he shuddered - right where the indents where. And suddenly he was being dragged along, hauled along. His shoulders sagged - he was too late, and He had caught up and recaptured His prize.

He was a fool to think he would be able to just leave, like that, when all other attempts to do so had been met with abysmal failure.

The cacophony faded. The racket eased. The colors dimmed, and expired. The world washed away like a beach sculpture in high tide.

And there was a voice.

A familiar voice, one that wasn’t His. One that didn’t croon and bray about the things they would do, the things they had in common, how much he meant to Him and how much He meant to him in turn.

Infact, in sharp comparison to the only voice he had heard over the past six months, this voice was blunt and vulgar, with none of the calming tones to it.

“-et you the fuck out of here. Keep up, Fuckface, I didn’t nearly kill a fuckin’ imposter goon for nothing. I nearly killed him for something, and that something is you, so get on your feet and fuckin’ move with me, godamnit.”

The voice, or at least it’s sensibilities, was familiar, the same way a distant memory of your forgotten youth was. As the world began to focus, and he felt himself be pushed into the front seat of a shitty rental car, he glimpsed a long, green mohawk.

His heart didn’t quite stop pounding, but it did settle, and that might’ve been enough.

-=-=-=-

The shitty rental car roared through the streets, leaving the roaring arena behind in the distance. At the wheel, Violet Dreyer cackled, , and throwing a hand out the window, she flipped the bird to the retreating stadium and all those within it, despite being far enough that nobody would be able to witness, let alone decipher, the crude gesture. Satisfied, she began punching the stereo and flipping through some radio stations until something that sounded vaguely rock enough came though.

‘Well where are they now?
I’ll be in the ground,
‘Where’s Pinkie gone’ they’ll wonder,
too late now I’m six feet under-’

“Do y’all think I fuck around?” She boasted, cheerfully, either to herself or her quiet passenger. Didn’t matter - she was going to boast nevertheless. “What, y’all think a midlife crisis manchild and his oversized bozo of a bro with brass knuckles and brittle skin can keep me away? Fuck around, find out, am I right or am I fuckin’ right as?” She shot a glance at her passenger, thumping him on the arm encouragingly.

Krash sat quietly, staring out the windshield with wide eyes.

‘Tell me, tell me it's okay,
Will they notice that I've gone away?
I've lost everything worth living for,
And soon it won't hurt anymore-’

“Hey. Hey hey hey, Moustache Fuck,” Violet continued, with another shove on the arm. “Has it settled in yet? You’re free. You’ve escaped. Jeremy fucked up, Baxter fucked up, their lil’ Dollar Store MasKrash certainly fucked up, and like the fuckin’ genius that I am, I swooped in and got you free. How about you wake the fuck up, show me that fuckin’ smile and thank me for puttin’ in the work, why don’tcha?”

‘Tell me it's all in my mind,
Just take these pills and you'll be fine,
Can't live like this another day,
It's time for me to fade away-’

“Please stop the car.” Krash finally spoke up, his voice a hushed whisper, barely audible above the radio.

“What?” Violet barked, turning down the music and gesturing for him to repeat himself. “Fuck, sorry. Say that again?”

Krash turned, pale face aimed towards Violet. “Please stop the car.” He repeated, a hoarse, unrecognizable voice from his lips. Violet frowned, but acquiesced, pulling over near a city park. As the shitty rental car ground to a halt beside a tall lamppost, Krash pushed open his door, stepping out onto the asphalt with shaky, trembling legs. A hand held on to the frame of the door, the other outstretched, as is to grasp at something from within the air.

“You, uh, doin’ good there, Krash?” Violet queried, leaning forward.

Without warning, Krash suddenly bent over onto the grass next to the car park, retching.

“Shit.” Violet muttered, getting out on her side and rushing over to Krash’s. “Look, just try not to get a mess on the car itself, alright? It’s a rental.”

Coughing and spluttering, Krash knelt on the grass, a thin trail of saliva hanging from his lips. Groaning, he raised his head, gazing out at the city park, of the bushes and the benches and the sidewalks. Then he turned, laying on his back, and stared up at the night sky above, his chest heaving.

He mumbled something inaudible, as Violet knelt down next to him, making sure to stay away from the pile of sick on the grass. Within the illumination of the lamppost, Violet was finally able to get a long, detailed look at Krash’s being.

She felt innately sick.

Krash was pale, absurdly so, nearly completely devoid of colour as he trembled. His face was gaunt, haggard, almost skeletal like, hollow-cheeked and hollow-eyed. His hair seemed to have lost colour, silver patches lining the base of his skull while the natural black hair hung limply, unwashed, clumped, cluttered. Uneven stubble lined his jaw, dark in some areas, lighter in others. Moving her attention to his body, Violet had to ignore the urge to count how many of Krash’s ribs were visible, strained beneath the emancipated skin of a torso that seemed to have an indent beneath the ribcage, and as he breathed in, Violet could’ve sworn she was able to make out the outline of his spine. The term ‘all skin and bones’ entered her mind, which seemed like an apt description. Scrawny, wasted, angular. She had seen corpses looking more alive than this.

Oddly enough, his moustache still seemed on par. In fact, his moustache looked like the only part of him that had been cared for.

“Fuckin’ hell.” She whispered in equal amazement and disgust. “You’re a funeral suit away from presentable.”

A hand raised itself up towards the stars, clasping and unclasping at them.

“Is it real?” Krash spoke, rasping with an uncharacteristic voice.

“Is what real?” Violet replied, tilting a head. “If this is some sort of ‘I’m in a coma and you’re all just manifestations of my subconscious’ then Devin Golden already did it. Siempre and such.”

Krash cleared his throat, a process that sounded painful. “No, I- is this real? Or- or am I hallucinating… Again… Trapped with Him still?”

Violet shook her head, grabbing Krash’s outstretched hand and pushing it back to his body. “No. I mean, yes. I mean- Fuck. It’s real, alright? You’re free now. He can’t hurt you anymore.”

Krash stared at her, with a pair of eyes that looked empty. Maybe he had told himself those words before, while he was hallucinating an escape attempt. Or maybe he just plainly did not believe her. Violet decided not to entertain either theory. “You’re going home. Alright?”

Silence.

“Alright?” Violet prodded.

After an eternity, Krash nodded, the barest adjustment of his head, the quietest raw voice. “Alright.”

-=-=-=-

“Okay, so, fair warning so you don’t get mad - You’ve got a broken window next to your front door.” Violet explained flippantly, as they drove across the red sands of the outback. “Wasn’t me. Well, maybe it was me, but it wasn’t my fault. It was months ago anyway, so no big deal. Cool?”

Krash did not respond.

“Cool.”

During the travel across the globe to return to his home in Australia, Krash had been nearly completely quiet. While he had thrown on a shirt to cover up his ragged torso, a shirt Violet had hanging around and was covered in the kind of statements one would usually find graffiti’d on a bathroom wall, Krash had barely made a sound. Barely responded to Violet’s inquiries to his being, to what happened to him, to where he had been even before Jeremy found him. He avoided eye contact whenever possible, and multiple times Violet caught him staring straight ahead vacantly, fists clenched and knuckling the seat, before it passed.

She didn’t ask about that. She wasn’t sure how.

The car ground to a halt in front of Krash’s abode in the middle of nowhere. Far, far away from any neighbours, any towns, any point of civilization. At one point, long ago, Violet had wondered why a man as social as Krash lived so far away from society, a question she never bothered asking. She never got a solid answer. She didn’t think she ever would.

Getting out of the car, she gestured broadly at the house, and the flimsy wooden pallet resting against the aforementioned broken window in a feeble attempt to cover up the breakage. “Ta-da! Home sweet fuckin’ home! Just the way you left it, more or less.”

Krash quietly exited the car, following her. His gaze traveled from his home, to the sandy desert around him. His eyes rested on one patch of sand that was a shade darker than the others, lingering a second longer than necessary, before he tore his gaze back to the house. Evidently, Violet never bothered locking the door after she broke in long ago, as she already pushed the door open, gesturing for Krash to step inside. “I bet you’re glad to be home, right?”

Krash eyed the dust encasing most of his home and the dirt spread across the hallway floor, before clearing his throat. It sounded like sandpaper on gravel. “I guess. Still doesn’t feel… Real.” He stepped inside, took a deep breath, and instantly sneezed. “That felt real, though.” He noted.

Violet sighed. “So… It’s been a while.” She began. “A long while, I should say. Last year, you and Randy-”

Krash visibly grimaced at the mention of the rockstar, a movement that went unnoticed by Violet, who continued, unheeding, inspecting her nails in a way that was anything but casual.

“-kind of… Well… Fuck man. After you two went into the water, no-one found you. They searched the lake and everything. Everyone thought you were… Gone. ‘Cept that fuckin’ nutcase Jeremy, for some reason.”

Violet paused, glancing at Krash, as he sat on the couch, staring at his thumbs. “Are you listening? I stopped hoping for quick gigs in FWA because, I figured, what’s the fucking point, you’re not there to vouch for me anymore. And it’s not- It’s not just you not being able to vouch for me. It’s you not being there, period. Not being there, not being here, not being fucking anywhere. I tried hanging out with Alyster, but he… We need you. He and I, we’re too similar. You’re the buffer. You balance us out. Or something. Fuck, I don’t know. Doesn’t help that that Masked Fuck didn’t tell me y-” Violet stopped herself, biting her tongue. No. Don’t go there. It wouldn’t help. Not now. Maybe not ever.

Krash slowly turned his gaze towards her. Something had happened at the mention of Alyster, but exactly what, Violet couldn’t tell.

“Point is - I thought you were dead. Everyone did. Then one night zitface and his goon drags you out from wherever the fuck you were, beats you up, then kidnaps you like a lunatic? Was he always two steps away from being on a watch list, and nobody ever noticed? Christ on a stick. But the thing is - you are alive, or at the very least, not 100% dead. And now, you’re home. You’re safe. You hear me? You’re okay, you’re in one piece, or close enough to it. I guess what I’m trying to say is… It’s nice to have you back.”

Violet smiled, the kind of smile not typically found on her features - one of kindness. The kind of emotion Krash didn’t think she even possessed. “I don’t know how you do it, but people fuckin’ care about you. Y’know? You mean a lot of people.”

Krash was taken aback by a sudden pair of arms slinging tightly around his body. “I missed you so fucking much.” Violet mumbled.

He missed her, too.

But for some reason, he couldn't express it, and sat limply in her embrace.

He tried to smile back, to match her expression.

He couldn’t.

He settled for a thin, tight-lipped curve of the mouth, and hoped it was enough.

With an exhale, Violet broke the embrace, looking someone embarrassed for the display of genuinity. “Where did you go, by the way? Where the fuck did Baxter find you from? If I knew, I would’ve found you myself.”

Krash hesitated, and simply shrugged.

“Eh. Look, I’ve got to duck out, take care of some errands.” Violet said, with a handwave. “I should be back in a day or two. Three at most. You’ll be alright here, by yourself?”

There was an unasked question at the tail end of Violet’s sentence. A question both of them knew.

Internally, Krash felt otherwise. But he nodded his head, regardless.

-=-=-=-

That night, sleep did not come easy to Krash.

Sure, he was in his own home. In his own bed. But as he closed his eyes in an attempt to ease into a restless slumber, a thought occurred to him.

He knew where he lived.

He knew the layout of his house.

He knew how to get here.

Though their ‘team meeting’ in preparation for the Cibernetico, an event that seemed so long ago, the five of them met at Krash’s home. Konchu Hao, Jackson Fenix, Gerald Grayson, and of course… Him.

And just like that, any hope of sleep left him, and paranoia gripped him. What was stopping Him and His crony from just… Waltzing on in and taking Krash back? Nothing. Even if Krash locked the door, the broken window Violet had made long ago meant anyone could just reach in and unlock it.

At first, Krash tried closing his bedroom door and barricading it, just on the off chance that He did, in fact, make an appearance, with a toothy grin and enough duct tape and cuffs to ensure Krash wouldn’t struggle. But once the barricade was in place, the all-too-familiar, horrible feeling of being trapped, imprisoned, unable to escape from a single returned to him. And minutes later, in a panic, the barricade came down.

Then he tried sleeping with his door open, under the assumption that he would be able to hear Him approach, and hide accordingly. But now, he was too exposed. He had no gates, no guards. Nothing would stop anyone from entering.

So he gave up on the notion of sleep, eyes burning with disagreement.

And he sat on the couch, staring at the front door, a thick blanket wrapped around him and a kitchen knife clutched in his grip, until the sun rose.

He didn’t quite relax. But he eased, enough to let the knife drop from his grip, onto the coffee table.

Still unwilling to drift off into a slumber, Krash rose, shrugging the blanket off, and began making himself a coffee. He didn’t even drink coffee, usually, but… These were not usual circumstances. With blearly, faded eyes, he groped around in his cupboard for a bit of extra spice, and topped off the mug of coffee with a strong dose of whisky.

It burned his throat, and he spluttered terribly, in immediate regret. But it kicked his heart awake, and that’s what mattered now.

He itched, his fingered twitched. Not because of the coffee. He had to do something. Sitting around doing nothing would cause him to go stir crazy. His gaze wandered to the TV. He had a whole year of FWA to catch up on. He had no idea what had happened over the past year, and Violet refused to tell him. At the very least, it would pass the time, right?

Grabbing the remote, Krash’s finger hovered over the button. He hesitated.

There’s a lot of FWA to catch up on. And he most certainly wanted to.

But how much of that catching up would involve Him?

Krash’s hand shook. He wasn’t ready. He wasn’t prepared. The thought of seeing Him again, even in a recording through a TV screen, filled him with such unfathomable dread. With a sickness he couldn’t get rid of.

So instead, he switched on the movie channel, and his heartbeat slowed slightly. He wouldn’t run into Him or be reminded of him watching a random film, right?

The last few scenes of Toy Story were playing. That would do.

Resting the knife back on the coffee table, he sat down on the couch, aimlessly watching Woody and Buzz Lightyear make it back to Andy. He wasn’t really watching it at all, everyone knew the story off by heart, but the visual stimuli helped distract him. Even as the credits started to roll, he simply observed and absorbed it as a distraction.

Until a certain song began playing during the ending credits.

‘You’ve got a friend in me.’

Krash froze.

‘You've got a friend in me.’

He broke out into a nervous sweat, hyperventilating, eyes wide.

‘When the road looks rough ahead,’

His vision began to warp, the familiar objects and settings of his home bleeding and fading into each other, losing all meaning. Already, he could feel the embrace of Him, something that was warm and cold at the same time. He could smell Him, His peppermint scent burning his nostrils. He could hear His voice in his ear, feel His hot breath cascading against the skin of his neck. A pair of leather restraints began to curl their way around his wrists, an additional pair around his ankles.

‘And you're miles and miles from your nice warm bed,’

His hands scrambled for the remote, gripping blindly, unable to see neither the remote nor the coffee table. In his vision, they simply stopped existing.

‘You just remember what your old pal said…’

His hands instead managed to grasp the handle of the knife instead.

‘Boy, you’ve got a friend in me.’

And without stopping to think about it, he gripped the handle of the knife with his right hand, and drove the blade as hard as he could into his left hand.

“FUCK.” Krash cried. The pain was immediate, agonizing - But it also dragged him back to reality, away from the nightmare of His clutches. Blinking tears away, his home returned to view. The TV, the house, the remote, the knife, and the coffee table now sprinkled with a splatter of blood. The sounds, the smell, the feeling… Everything associated with Him was gone, for now.

Aside from the end credits music of Toy Story, temporarily drowned out, which Krash quickly turned off.

He panted, cradling his bleeding hand, and with a groan, got up to find some bandages.

-=-=-=-

That night, against his own efforts, he fell into a slumber.

He didn’t know how long it lasted. It was a dreamless sleep - one second he was on the couch, staring at the door and fighting sleep away-

And the next second, darkness overtook him, and his body rested for the first time in a long while.

Yet when he woke up, he wasn’t on the couch.

For a brief second, Krash’s heart leapt with fear. He had been taken again, He was waiting for him to fall asleep, and He kidnapped him once again, and this time He wouldn’t let Krash go that easily.

But the second passed, and he realized, he was still home. He was just standing in his backyard.

Knee-deep in the patch of sand that was slightly darker than the rest.

He blinked, frozen mid action. His hands were full of sand.

He had no idea whether he was digging the hole, the trench, the ditch, or filling it in.

Scrambling out of the hole, Krash breathed. The wind howled, the cold biting at his skin, as he shakily retreated into his home.

-=-=-=-

After morning rose, and after Krash had sat awake for it, he began shifting through his garage. He was looking for something, something that maybe only three people in his life knew about, himself included. Something he felt he might need, if only he could remember where he put it. His hand still throbbed with pain, something that was both welcome and not. On one hand, it kept him centralized, fixed him to reality. On the other hand, it made carrying and pushing boxes a chore.

With a grunt, mopping away sweat from his brow, Krash pushed aside what felt like the 100th cardboard box full of junk, and let out a sigh of relief at finding the black locked safe behind it. Unlocking the dial, he let it swing open. He almost didn’t want to reach in and grab at his prize, afraid at how he might react. But there was a worrying feeling biting at him, something he suspected might be worse than initially assumed.

He glanced around at the interior of his garage. Trophies, plaques, and accolades were strewn across the area - Championships won, trophies earned, and all kinds of professional acknowledgements of his victories throughout his long, storied, and often times painful career. FWA, CWA, CGS, CAW, APW, OWW, and a few others scattered across the place. He couldn’t recall all of them. Enough time had passed that most of the earlier ones had blended together. What felt like a crowning moment was soon eclipsed by another, bigger crowning moment.

Many fellow wrestlers had a ‘trophy area’ similar to this. Often, in times of crisis, they would retreat to their wall of victory to observe, to remember, to remind themselves what they are capable of.

For many wrestlers, it was all about the gold. The wins. The victories. The chance to stamp your name on the scoreboards of history, immortalized.

For Krash, all the gold won was just a cherry on top.

No. Sure, while he wouldn’t turn down a shot at the gold, what he truly treasured in this business was something more… Personal.

And so, reaching a hand into the safe, he pulled out a stack of journals.

Some were large, thick. Others were thin, only a handful of pages. Some were ragged, barely holding themselves together. Others were leather bound, well cared for. On the front of each journal was a name, the name of someone important to Krash, someone he had met and grown a connection with over the course of his career. With every moment, every match, every show or event that brought them closer together, Krash would paste a photo or a written recap of the event into the accommodating book. He wasn’t the best at arts & crafts, but he kept the habit throughout his decades of wrestling, in hopes that one day, when his gold is reduced to sand and he was little more than a wrinkled, bedridden old man on his last days, he could grasp his collection of connections and be reminded of what he really achieved in his life. Maybe some of the focuses of his journals would be beside him. Maybe not.

Some of the journals were still active, their books growing every day.

Others hadn’t been updated in more than a decade.

For example, the bold green book marked ‘CYRUS TRUTH’ had been updated as recently as early 2022, while the orange book marked ‘DAN MASKELL’ had been left to wither in 2018. A thin, ragged book marked ‘AJ TORNADO’ hadn’t been touched since at least 2010. Too many bad memories associated with that one.

But none of those were his current target. None of those were the book he pulled out of the pile, the biggest, thickest novel, with a blood red cover and the words ‘ALYSTER BLACK’ emboldened on it.

Krash let his palm rest on the cover of the journal. All of the self-made tributes to his friends and allies, none meant more to him than this one. Than the tribute to his fellow Gang Star, Alyster Black.

It briefly occured to Krash, that He also made his own shrine. Unlike Krash’s, His shrine was downright terrifying, the scope of a madman in the throes of obsession. Whereas Krash based his journals on real events and memories, with his allies being well aware of this habit, He instead built His out of clipped hair, unaware photos, discarded merchandise, with nobody the wiser.

Krash banished the thoughts from his head. He didn’t want to think of Him any more. Already he could feel a chill in the air. So, shaking his head, Krash opened up the journal, hoping for the best.

Previously, in the years past, whenever Krash reminisced with these journals, a sense of warmth and comfort echoed within him. It reminded him of time well spent with people that mattered. It confirmed the connection between them.

But the night he broke free, in the moments before he exited the arena in a dazed sprint, something happened that caused no end of worry within him.

That night, just after he broke free from His grasp, Krash stumbled out of the ring, and nearly approached Alyster Black.

He had been dreaming of the day, dreaming of the day he would be free, that he would be reunited with Alyster, dreaming of the day he would have that familiar comforting feeling of the connection he had with Alyster, and he would be whole again.

But on that night, he locked eyes with Alyster, and to his dawning horror, he felt absolutely nothing.

So he ran. He ran as fast as he could.

Until he got here.

With the journal in front of him, Krash had to know. He had to be sure it wasn’t just… Residue numbness from His containment.

He had to be sure he could feel something, anything, when he saw someone he once had a connection with.

With bold, unblinking eyes, Krash turned to one of the last entries of the journal, updated sometime in mid-2022. A victorious tag match against, ironically enough, against Him and Baxter, before He revealed his true colors.

He stared at the photo of himself and Alyster, posing in victory, ignoring the visual of Him in the background, leering at Krash.

He stared.

Desperate to feel something, anything at all, Krash stared at the treasured memory until his eyes began hurting.

-=-=-=-

Another night.

Against his own will, he once again drifted off to a dreamless sleep.

And once again, awoke in the ditch, half way between digging or filling the hole.

A heavy rainstorm thundered against him, and with a tight grimace, he again retreated into his home.

He wasn’t entirely sure, but he strongly suspected exactly what the importance of that particular patch of sand was. In a way, he had been there before, and not just last night.

Not wanting to dwell on it, he began making another mixture of coffee and whisky.

-=-=-=-

Finally, on that day, the sound of Violet’s shitty rental car returning reached his ears. Krash breathed a sigh of relief, glimpsing Violet’s ridiculously tall mohawk approaching from the driveway.

“Mornin’, bozo.” Violet chirped, setting some bags of groceries on the kitchen counter. “You look like shit. Trouble sleeping?”

“You could say that.” Krash mumbled. He did not tell her exactly what kind of trouble, nor did he tell her of his paranoia, nor his fears of the loss of the one thing that truly mattered to him. Instead, he simply shrugged.

“Yeah, it shows.” Violet remarked, polite as ever. “Look, I got something that’ll get your mind off things - That game series you love just launched a new game. Multiplayer, too.”

Krash squirmed. “I’m not really one for multiplayer.”

“Yeah, I know, but I figured you could probably do with a distraction from things, right?”

Krash hesitated, but nodded.

“That’s the spirit. Gimmie ten, I’ll set things up for you.”

And just like that, minutes later, Violet joined Krash on the couch. She eyed the stain on the coffee table, but didn’t say a word, instead handing him a controller.

“You’ll pick it up quick. Controls are familiar, you know the franchise, you’ll get the hang of it.”

The game began, with bright chirps and colorful characters that Krash knew he recognizes from somewhere. But where, he couldn’t tell.

“Krash,” Violet said, her elbow bumping against his arm. “C’mon, you’re up, it’s a live game. PvP. Everyone’s relying on you.”

It took Krash a few seconds to process what he had been told, and hesitantly he brought a pair of unsteady hands to the controller. His eyes squinted at the controller in front of him, irises neither shrinking nor expanding, and he simply sat in unmoving silence for a few, long seconds.

“Krash…?” Violet hesitantly asked. “Dude, c’mon. You remember how to play.” She remarked, prodding his thumb encouragingly against the joystick. On the screen, the little avatar of Krash moved forward a step. Then another, then another, forward in a straight line.

“That’s the spirit.” Violet remarked with a pat on the back. “Now, go to midpoint, they need you there.”

Krash’s finger stayed pressed against the joystick, neither increasing nor decreasing pressure, like a fixed position. The avatar continued moving in one direction, missing the turn towards the midpoint.

“It’s to the right, Krash, you gotta turn right.”

The avatar continued moving forward, shouting generic fighting phrases, until it reached a ledge, a cliff at the end of the map. Krash’s finger did not move, and his avatar continued it’s persistent, determined walk right off the edge with a panicked shriek.

The respawn timer flickered on the screen.

Violet’s eyes darted to Krash’s. “... Dude?”

Krash made no response, finger still pressing the joystick. His avatar respawned, chortling a confident quote, and began it’s dutiful march to the ledge. With no variation, the avatar once again marched directly over the edge to it’s untimely demise, this time only letting out a whimper.

The respawn timer ticked on the screen once again.

“You’re just…” Violet paused, faltering. “You’re just walking over the edge, man. You gotta turn.”

Krash’s avatar respawned, began it’s approach towards the edge, and silently walked off without hesitation. The respawn timer once again ticked down on the screen.

“Krash?”

As Krash’s avatar respawned once more, an enemy player walked into view, possibly in an attempt to spawncamp.

“Right, okay, let the enemy come to you, okay, fair play, now’s your chance.” Violet said, her voice audibly unsure and unencouraging. “Blast this guy.”

To Krash, it didn’t even sound like a voice. It sounded like a leaf brushing in the wind, a sound one had tuned out. It sounded like nothing.

Krash’s avatar walked right past the enemy player, even as they shot directly at them, and marched right over the edge. The enemy player paused, befuddled.

Krash’s avatar respawned, walked right past the enemy player, and right off the edge again.

And again.

And again.

Violet watched silently, concerned, unsure how to proceed.

In the game, Krash’s avatar respawned once more. The enemy player was waiting for them. As Krash’s avatar approached, the enemy player joined him, marching sternly towards the edge.

Both avatars walked off the edge and ragdolled to their end.

Krash’s avatar respawned.

The enemy player’s didn’t.

The screen went black. Krash felt the controller being gently prised out of his grip, and blinked, feeling a wet trail running down his face. He even didn’t realize when and how his eyes had begun welling with tears - they just did. He couldn't even make out why that was. Relief? Melancholy? Something else entirely…? His feelings were hard to place. If anything, he only felt… Numb. Perhaps uncomfortably so.

“Maybe we should do something else.” Violet remarked, placing the controller on the coffee table.

She said as much, but stayed silent for quite some time.

-=-=-=-

“You know what your problem is?”

Krash blinked. Hours had passed, hours where Krash had done pretty much nothing but stay curled up on the couch. Whereas Violet switched between pacing back and forth and flicking through her phone, torn between concern and annoyance, before finally speaking up.

“Look, I’ve been around the block with wrestlers,” Violet continued, throwing a lavender dress shirt at Krash. “I know how everyone seems to find a way out of a rut, what they do when they’re super down and lonely or whatever. You go out to a bar, get fuckin’ hammered, then find some hottie and get fuckin’ hammered. Get dressed, you’re going out.”

“What?” Krash squinted. “Violet, I don’t… I don’t think I’m up for that.”

“C’mon, I know you’ve had flings before.” Violet waved a hand flippantly. “And look, I get it, you probably aren’t going to be comfortable with strangers. But you’ve locked yourself inside of your own house for days now, doing absolutely nothing but stare at the wall as far as I can tell.” Her eyes drifted to the stain on the coffee table, and she fought back a grimace. “What’s the point of freeing you from one prison if you’re going to just going to retreat into another?”

Krash frowned, squirming in discomfort. “It’s a little more complicated than that.”

“Is it?”


It was. But Krash found himself unable to explain why, unable to tell her exactly why, and with a groan, he stood. “I don’t think this is a good idea.” He advised.

Violet shrugged. “Can’t hurt to try, right?

On the contrary, many things hurt to try. Like shoving a knife through the palm of your hand during the throes of a dissociative attack, to pull an example out of thin air. In fact, trying was considered to be one of the leading causes towards experiencing or causing the sensation of pain.

He didn’t say that, of course.

But in hindsight, he probably should’ve.

-=-=-=-

The nightclub was one of those neon bars, with overpriced drinks and music that wasn’t as much music, as much as it was noises created in a slightly rhythmic procession by a dude punching the turntables as hard as he could.

And yet, Krash was familiar with the nightclub. Nightclubs like this were made for people like him. This particular one, he hadn’t had the joy of visiting previously, but he had visited other nightclubs like it in his life. Some out of curiosity, some out of boredom, some out of enthusiasm, some out of a longing for companionship. And with every one, regardless of his reasoning, his hesitation usually washed away as he stepped through the doors.

This time, the hesitation didn’t.

He stood awkwardly in the doorway, fingering the hemline of his shirt. There were people – some talking, some dancing, some drinking, some huddled in an embrace with another.

His vision swayed.

He jammed a finger into the bandage on his palm, grimacing at the hot wave of discomfort, and his vision returned.

Eyes swivelling across the club, for a brief second his gaze lingered on a tall, broad-shouldered man at the bar. The barest hint of warmth stirred inside him, somewhere beneath his abdomen, and he paused.

Well, it was better than being numb.

And so, he approached the bar, sitting himself a few seats away from the man. He ordered a whisky, and began the long process of building up the courage to approach the handsome man with piercing blue eyes.

Turns out, he didn’t need to. Within a few minutes, the man at the bar caught his gaze, flickering a smirk his way, and shifted seats to be closer.

“Hey.” The man said, greeting him with a nod. His voice sounded like it came from a Spanish telenova. Thick black hair, trimmed and coifed with an undercut, waved as he bobbed his head. The top two buttons of his orange shirt were undone, deliberately so, as Krash’s gaze wandered to his chest. He suddenly felt extremely self-conscious, aware of the ragged torso beneath his own shirt, and as he sipped his drink and rose his eyeline.

Shit. This was going too fast.

“Hey yourself.” Krash replied.

Off to a tremendous start.

The man’s eyes flickered to Krash’s, and his lips curled. “You waiting for someone?”

Krash paused. He could’ve said no. He could’ve told him to fuck off. The call-and-response ritual of this nightclub tradition was long and storied, one both of them likely knew.

“No.” He said instead, slowly shaking his head. “You?”

The man shrugged. “If the night calls, it calls. If not…” He shrugged again. Christ. Even a gesture as simple as a shrug spread a tingle of blood rushing down Krash’s body.

Krash forced his hands to steady, as he chose his words carefully. “What if I called you?”

The man’s gaze travelled down Krash’s body, slowly, carefully, the way one would observe a lost painting. He tilted a head, resting his chiselled jaw on the palm of a hand. “For someone as… Handsome, as you? I might answer.”

Oh, fuck.

“I have an apartment, not too far from here.” The man mused, casually. “Perhaps, you would be willing to… Accompany me, no?”

Oh. Fuck.

-=-=-=-

His name was Luis.

Maybe.

Krash didn’t hear it, truthfully. He was preoccupied with a warm shiver as Luis’s breath cast down on the side of his neck, pockmarked by sloppy, hungry kisses, from his now bare chest, up his neck, stopping only to whisper things in his ear that Krash didn’t quite make out.

The intention was clear, though.

As his shirt was dropped to the floor, Luis’ gaze briefly paused on Krash’s withered torso. The shadow of concern fell over his face, before being summarily dismissed as Krash gently gripped him by the jaw, pulling him in, lips meeting lips, hungry, yearning for more.

There was no attachment here, no connection. That was okay – the warmth of his heart pounding and blood rushing to a certain place was a distraction enough. And he needed the distraction. More than anything else in the world, Krash needed the distraction. Even if it was only for a brief amount of time, he needed it. He needed the distraction, he needed the carnal desire that came with the distraction, and he needed the feeling of anything that came with the carnal desire.

He needed it badly.

Their embrace broke, briefly, and they took in breaths, oxygen they had forgotten they needed during their embrace. It felt secondary.

Luis’ hands explored the ridges of Krash’s back, trailing lower and lower, as he rested his head on Krash’s chest, humming. “You have mistreated this temple of yours.” He whispered.

“Wait.”

Luis’s hands stopped. He raised his gaze to meet Krash’s. “Something the matter?”

“No. I mean-“ Krash paused, considering. “I havn’t even told you my name yet.”

“There is no need. I know who you are.”

“You do?”

“Of course. I watched you as I grew up. I have been a fan of yours for a very long time… ‘Krash.’”
Luis hesitated, tilting his head. “Or do you prefer ‘Jake’ in this scenario?”

The words fell on deaf ears.

Krash felt his stomach curdle, and the hot feeling in his abdomen turned to ice.

‘I have been a fan of yours for a very long time.’ The words echoed in his mind, thundering, except they weren’t in Luis’ smooth, flirtatious voice.

They were in a voice that he had begun fearing, long ago. That had said the exact same thing, the first time they had met.

They were in the high pitched, shrill, almost innocent tones… Of Him.

Krash forgot how to breath, attempting to inhale, but nothing happened. His vision began to blur, to shift, to twist. Things lost focus, lost meaning. The surroundings of Luis’ high class apartment cracked and swayed, into the yellow ugly wallpaper, the old fashioned television, the tacky brown armchair that had restrained built into it.

And in his embrace, Luis’s face was gone, replaced by the oblivious, carefree expression of Jeremy Best.

“Are you alright?”

Krash felt himself move back, step back, against the wall, mouth agape. His heartbeat hammered in his ears, deafening. A hand clasped at the doorknob behind him, and without thinking, Krash wrenched it open, ducked inside, and slammed the door shut.

He breathed, kneeling over a sink. He was in a bathroom – sink, toilet, shower. Nothing special. The face in the mirror was an unrecognizable mess, pupils shrunken in a panic. He needed stability, he needed something to yank him back to reality.

So without a further thought, he raised his left hand and punched the porcelain walls of the shower with his left hand as hard as he could.

His vision blurred. The shapes that weren’t there dimmed, but they were still there.

“You okay in there?”

And outside, was the voice of a man who shouldn’t be there.

So he punched it again.

And again.

And again, until the pain from his hand overtook the hallucinations of his mind.

He sat on the cold tiled floor, cradling his bruised and bleeding hand, heaving. He slowly regained his bearings, as a trio of knocks on the door caught his attention.

For a brief second, Krash feared it would be His voice again, braying through the door.

Instead, it was Luis.

“I heard… The sounds of someone in distress. Could you assure me that you are alright, in your current state of being?”

Krash rose, shakily, pale, and with his good hand, unlocked the door.

Luis’ face was twisted into concern. His eyes caught Krash’s mangled hand, and he frowned.

“Sorry.”

“No. It is… It is okay. Perhaps I was… Moving too fast.”
Luis mumbled, eyes retreating to meet Krash’s. “We… We don’t have to do anything if you are not comfortable, you know.”

There as an offer unsaid, a branch left hanging. Perhaps another time, when he wasn’t in this condition, he might’ve accepted.

But Krash shook his head. “I should go. It’s not you. I’m… I’m working through some stuff.”

Luis hummed, but acquiesced, stepping back. He handed Krash his shirt, now crumbled. “A man as handsome as you, should not be going through this kind of… ‘Stuff.’”

Krash shrugged on his shirt, avoiding eye contact. “No-one should.”

Buttoning up the shirt, several buttons done in the wrong order, Krash made to leave.

“If you do manage to work through this stuff,” Luis noted, hesitating. “Give me a call. We can… Try this again, perhaps?”

Krash didn’t answer, as he slipped through the front door, letting it swing shut behind him.

-=-=-=-

He was certain he wasn’t going to sleep that night, too wrought with anxiety, with paranoia, with shame. Despite as much, he asked Violet to stay over, just for company, just so maybe with another body in the house that he could trust, sleep might come to him.

As Violet snored on the couch, Krash felt himself drift off to sleep once more, into that familiar, almost preferable void of nothingness.

And once again, he awoke, kneeling in a ditch, sand coating his sweating palms.

It was a windless night, a cloudless night. Possibly the calmest night he could’ve had, as he sat on the ridge of the ditch, wondering whether this was the start of the end of a hole.

Then a voice called out.

“What the fuck are you doing out here?” Violet called out, marching his way with a torch in hand. “It’s fuckin’ freezing, you trying to catch a cold? The fuck’s going on?”

She paused, shining the torch into the ditch. “What’s with the… Sand hole?”

Krash glanced at his sand coated palms, and began wiping them on his trousers. “I don’t know.”

“You don’t know? How could you not know?”

“I don’t know, Violet. I’ve just woken up out here, each night for the past three nights, kneeling in this trench with sand in my hands, and I don’t-”
He paused, cutting himself off, as an idea occurred to him. “Shit.”

Violet squinted. “What?”

Krash’s hands went back into the sand, rummaging through the grains of dirt. He closed his eyes. He buried his hands, up to his wrists, and let the sand cocoon him.

It was familiar.

“Fuck.”

“What? Can someone tell me what the fuck is going on?”


Krash clicked his tongue, removing his hands from the ground. “I… I think… A few days ago, you asked where I was, before… Before Baxter found me.”

“Yeah, so?”


Krash pointed a finger into the hole. “I think… I think I was here.”

Violet stared, at the hole, then at Krash again. “... In the sand?” She noted, disbelievingly. “In this fuckin’ hole?”

“I don’t think it’s a hole. I think it’s a grave.” Krash replied, voice low. “I think- I think I died, Violet. And something brought me back, and I’m starting to feel like I wish it didn’t.”

Violet didn’t know what to say.

Neither did Krash.

-=-=-=-

A brew of coffee heated between the two of them, as they sat in Krash’s kitchen.

Silence had reigned between the two, as Violet poured them both a hot drink, wordlessly handing over the whisky to Krash to top up his mug.

“How are you feeling? And tell me everything, okay?” Violet eventually asked, gently.

Krash shrugged, holding his drink close. “Jus… Tired.”

“Tired?”

“Mm.”


Violet sighed. “Well, shit, if that’s all it is, we can get you in a good sleeping pattern. I’m su-”

“No, the other tired.”

“Other tired?”

Krash nodded. “Not tired here.” He pointed at his head. “But tired… Here.” And pointed at his heart.

Violet blinked. “I don’t-“

“Violet, I can’t… I can’t feel.”

“Can’t feel… What?”


Krash opened his mouth, then closed it. He waved a hand around his face.

“You can’t feel your face?”

“No. I can’t… Feel… Myself, anymore.”

“... I don’t know what you mean.”


“I’m… I feel…” Krash’s face twisted into a grimace, fist clenching in frustration of knowing the term, knowing the word, but being unable to find it. In annoyance, he thrust his fist against the side of his head. “Can’t-... I can’t-”

“Hey, woah, let’s… Chill the fuck out, alright? Don’t hurt yourself, you’re fragile enough as it is.”

In desperation, Krash pointed to his chest, right where his heart was. “I can’t feel.”

Violet frowned, suddenly understanding as a wave of clarity washed over her. “It’s not a physical sense of not-feeling, is it?”

“No.” Krash confirmed in agreement, resting his hands back on the counter. “It’s… Numb. There’s… There’s no connection. Connections. I can’t feel old ones. I can’t create new ones. I’m just… Empty, inside..”

“I don’t-”

“I felt nothing, Violet. I feel nothing. At the arena, I saw Alyster, I saw someone I loved and cherished, someone I loved and cherished, someone I hadn’t seen in a year! … And when I laid eyes on him, I felt nothing. The- The connection is gone. To Alyster. To everyone. It hurts.”


Violet stayed silent, as the words sunk in. As the meaning of what was truly happening, of what was truly afflicting her friend, sank in. “I… Fuck.”

“I have all the gold in the world, and I would trade it all away if it meant I could see the face of a friend and feel something again. Before, when I looked into a crowd, I would see people, I would see faces, I would see friends. But… But now…”

“Now what?”


“They’re just… Shapes. Meaningless bits of nothing. No connections, just vague figures, swaying in the wind, interchangeable. Nothing more than shapes.” Krash’s lip quivered. “And they don’t mean a thing to-” He paused, huffing. “They don’t- What the fuck is wrong with me?!?” The admission seemed to drag an indescribable sadness over the his mind, and his eyes involuntarily welled with hot, thick tears. His lips quivered with the sudden intensity of emotion, the tears streaming down his cheeks and plinking onto his trousers below. It was so strange to feel something after such a long period of numbness. It was overwhelming.

It was terrible. It was horrible.

He felt a pair of arms sling around his trembling body, pulling him into a loose hug. Violet had moved closer to him, but said not a word.

“Sometimes when it gets really bad, I feel – I feel like I’m back there.” Krash continued, voice shaking. “Back in His hands. Something reminds me of Him, and it’s like I never broke free at all. And it’s times like that, that I wish I stayed gone, because it’s better than this. Only marginally so.”

“Don’t say that.” Violet whispered.

“The grave, the hole outside, I figured out what it’s about. I don’t feel like me, so there must be the real me somewhere. I remember being in that hole, so maybe that’s where the real me is, the one that’s strong enough to get through this. Maybe if I dig him up, he can go fix things, and I’ll be able to stop existing.”

“Krash-“

“Or maybe if I finish burying him, Jeremy will leave me the fuck alone. I don’t know. I don’t know. I’ll stop existing and-”

“Shut the fuck up.”


He did.

“Look,” Violet began. “I know, you’re traumatised. I thought as much when I rescued you that night, but I didn’t think it would’ve been this bad. Fuck, I mean, who wouldn’t be traumatized, right, after being kidnapped by a fucking wierdo like Jeremy.”

Krash shuddered at the mention of His name.

“And I’m going to tell you exactly what you need to do. You’re not going to want to do it, but it’s what has to be done. Okay?”

“Okay.”

“Are you listening? Tell me you’re listening.”

“I’m listening.”

“Right. You’re going to have to face Jeremy, Krash.”


Krash reeled back, breaking contact, staring at Violet in disbelief.

“Fuck off.”

“No. I’m serious. You’re going to have to face him, and confront him, and-”

“I don’t-”

“Shut the fuck up and listen to me, okay? Do you want to be like this for the rest of your life? A recluse, unable to enjoy the one thing you truly enjoy in the world anymore? Jumping at the shadows, hurting yourself at the slightest hint of Jeremy – Yeah, I fucking know. Alright? I fuckin’ know. Do you really want to be alone, for the rest of your life, afraid that someone else might turn out to be a Jeremy?”

“… No.”

“Exactly. You have to confront your fear, face him, and beat his face in until he’s pissing blood. Until he goes home in a huff and tears down the shrine he made of you. Until he learns that he didn’t take a rabbit into his yard, he welcomed a wolf into his home, and now it’s going to fuck. Him. Up.”

“But-”

“But nothing. Listen up, and listen good. This is your one chance to fix yourself. I don’t think you’ll get another, so listen the fuck up. If you put off facing Jeremy, then you’ll never be able to regain that feeling of personal connections that you live for. As long as you keeps finding excuses to avoid facing Jeremy, you’ll keep burrowing yourself deeper into the pit of loneliness until the light fades away. I get it. You’re afraid. You’re scared. PTSD in all but name. But if you don’t try to put Jeremy down, you’ll never be ‘Krash’ again. You’ll never be the person you want to be again. You know what you’ll be? You’ll be a grey recolouring, an empty shell of a man, lost inside of memories that no longer effect him. You’ll be just… A shape.”

Krash rose his head.

“If you’re so horrified by the thought of your friends, your memories, being reduced to shapes, then what will you feel when you look in the mirror one day and the face staring back at you means nothing?”

“I-”

“Jeremy Best fucked around and found out. I beat him. I made that bitch eat his own hair. Now it’s your turn. Kill that zit-faced git, murder the thirty-year old manchild. Kill him, or you’ll never get better. End of story.”


Krash contemplated, running a thumb over his wounded hand. “You think… Beating him, burying him alive will make me feel… Like me again?”

Violet shrugged. “It’s worth a fuckin’ shot, ain’t it? What’s the alternative, do nothing and hope you get better? Spoiler, dude, you don’t. You never will. This disease, this parasite, it’ll keep eating at you until you’re a husk, and you’ll die cold, alone, with the warmth of a fire inches away, but unable to bring yourself to move closer. You’re throwing away a life raft while you’re swimming in shark-infested waters. Don’t make the mistake be yours – Make it be his. Show him what happens when you put a rat in a cage – They either die, or they lash out. And I’m no mortician, and you might not believe it, not with your little theory of a real Krash being buried in your backyard but you sure don’t look fuckin’ dead to me.”

Krash glanced away, shamefaced. “… I don’t want to see him again. How can I even face him, when just the hint of anything associated with him is enough to get me shivering?”

“No, no, you’re thinking of it wrong. Look at me - Where is the Krash that betrayed the people he loved, that let his heart grow rotten and diseased to hold on to his APW Championship? That Krash would’ve shanked Jeremy in a back alley and left him to bleed into the gutter. I bet Jeremy doesn’t admire that Krash. I bet he doesn’t even know about the Krash that stabbed AJ Tornado in the back. He wants his ideal vision of you, the happy, charming, friendly idiot, when you and I both know there’s something way worse lurking beneath your surface. He took your charm, your ability to weave connections, your affinity for social networking. He took that away from you, and you’re going to kill him to get it back. But I fucking guarantee he didn’t take the bitter sociopath that donned a helmet and beat the aching piss out of Golden Rock.”

For the first time, there was a feeling in Krash, one that wasn’t sadness or numbness. It was a hot, firey thirst for vengeance, for revenge, for blood and for bruises and for burning down a village to spite one home. “He took everything that mattered from me.” He whispered, in an uneasy voice.

“And he left you with what you hate. Left you with the bits of you that you don’t like to acknowledge. Make that his mistake. Show him that he fucked up admiring the Heartbeat, the Maverick, when there’s a White Wolf waiting at the edge of the forest.”

Krash looked at Violet, lips trembling.

Violet looked back at Krash, stern, face flushed.

Then, barely, Krash nodded.

Kill Jeremy Best. Bury him six feet under, like he once was.

If it helped, great.

If it didn’t…

Then at least he was doing something. He was making an effort.

The aftermath of everything that had happened over the past year… It wasn't something he would get over. It wasn’t something that would be solved with a snap. It was going to be a long process. But once he strangled the life out of Jeremy, he hoped that it was something that could start the process.

Things might get better.

It would take time, effort, and an obsessed fan buried face down in the dirt.

But it might get better.

And that was all that mattered.​
 
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Comeback Kid

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NOTE: Time was not on my side during the Back in Business promo window. I became preoccupied with other things and couldn't write the final promo. I asked Tommy if he would be okay with me posting this and he obliged. Any feedback is appreciated. Enjoy, kids.

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Shawn Summers was not supposed to be the focus of almost all of Tommy’s thoughts, but he managed to preoccupy most of them since their feud began. Even as Tommy rushed behind the doctor and nurses of Hospital General de México, who were willing to do everything in their power to save both Randi and the baby, he couldn’t stop thinking about Shawn. He, like others before him, had become obsessed with Shawn. Tommy hated that obsessed was the only accurate word to describe his feelings for him. As he watched Randi be wheeled away, her screams growing quieter as she disappeared into the distance, he couldn’t help but wonder what Shawn would think about all of this.

Would he be untroubled that the stress he placed upon Randi weekly drove her body to reject their child? Would he have laughed at the idea of Tommy frozen in fear staring at Randi, pleading with him to take her to the hospital as she sat in a slowly growing puddle of her blood?

By the time Tommy had a chance to think about Randi and the baby, the doctor was already comforting him after delivering the news that their child didn’t make it. Tommy couldn’t recall all the details of what could have caused this so late in the pregnancy, but the one thing he knew was that this was because of Shawn. “That bastard,” he muttered to himself as his fingers dug into the palms of his hands. A nurse arrived to take Tommy to Randi’s bedside but warned him she was too weak to do anything other than rest.

Tommy wanted to be there for Randi, but his current mindset made it impossible. How does one deal with losing a child that was never born and a family that was only a dream? Tommy placed a kiss on Randi’s cheek before exiting the hospital room into the hallway that seemed endless. He tried to grieve the death of his family, but with each thought overtaken by Shawn, it all felt useless. Defeating him on Sunday felt both minute and gargantuan.

The hallways ended, but his thoughts and feelings didn’t. He left the hospital and wandered a bit through the streets of Mexico. In one of the pre-show meetings, the security team warned the crew against walking alone at night in Mexico, but Tommy didn’t heed it. He locked eyes with many shady characters on his walk, but none dared to try him. Tommy looked like a man with nothing to lose, eyes narrowed and focused as he crossed streets without care for traffic and bumped shoulders with whoever dared not move from him.

He entered a liquor store that smelled of piss and was quiet except for the sound of the humming lights. Tommy felt like a cliche written into a country song - a man down on his luck turning to alcohol to drown his sorrows. He browsed the selection that the store had to offer but didn’t notice anything familiar. It wasn’t the familiarity Tommy was looking for. He wanted something cheap and high in alcohol volume. Tommy eyed a row of various batches of grain alcohol on the shelf closest to the register. He remembered those teenage summers blacking out after passing one around with his football teammates. He grabbed two bottles, paid for them, and set out toward the stadium.

It was a much further walk than anticipated, but it was the only place he wanted to be. He needed to be there. He needed Shawn to be there. He needed to confront the man that took his child and his family away. Tommy unscrewed the cap to one of the bottles and took a long drink, wincing but not stopping as the alcohol burned his throat and chest.

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“I tried to drink it away,” Tommy slurred, trying to recite the words to a song he could not remember. He sat in the stadium's lower bowl, one bottle of alcohol in hand and the other waiting for him in the seat to his left. The alcohol no longer burned as it entered his body.

Tommy half expected to see Shawn wandering the arena, unable to sleep due to nerves or something of the like. He had planned what he’d say to Shawn and ran through various simulations, all ending with Shawn lying bloody at the sight of their forthcoming battleground. The simulations would remain just that as Shawn never appeared.

Tommy looked around the stadium and tried to imagine it filled with thousands of fans cheering his name. He closed his eyes and hoped that he could force the visualization to come to fruition, but to no avail. The fans wouldn’t be there cheering for him. No one would be there cheering for him. He was alone with reality - something he had been running from for quite some time. The truth of things was that Tommy was a murderer. “I killed him,” he muttered to himself. It was the first time Tommy said the words aloud, making him physically sick. He stopped himself from vomiting onto the seats before him. Tommy couldn’t stop the burning sensation in his throat. Was the burning from the acid of his vomit, or was it from the truth finally leaving his body and being uttered into the world?

An hour passed as Tommy sat replaying the beating he handed out in that trailer. He could feel every punch and every swing of the bat against his flesh as the scene replayed in his head. The sound of the fire crackling acted as a form of tinnitus in his head. He tried to shake the thoughts clean from his head, but the only thing that replaced them were those of Shawn.

Tommy often wished he had never signed that contract - answering Shawn’s open challenge. Had he not bothered with engaging with that fascist sociopath, Randi wouldn’t have been shoved around and subjected to verbal and mental abuse at his hands. “This is all my fault,” he said aloud as he again drank from the bottle. “I could’ve left well enough alone at The Grand March. I should’ve left well enough alone and focused on something else.” A championship wasn’t worth the physical and mental anguish that those close to him had suffered. His desire to hold a championship killed his child - no. His selfishness killed his child - no. Shawn Summers killed his child!

His breathing picked up, and he could feel his body getting hot as the realization came to him. “This was that son of a bitches plan from the beginning,” he whispered.

Stevie Wonder could see the jealousy that oozed out of Shawn’s pores every time he saw the happiness that Randi brought to Tommy. He wanted to kill that by any means necessary. That bastard. That fucking bastard,” Tommy said as the realizations kept hitting him.

No one loved Shawn. His father would rather have his brains blown out than be around him. His mother couldn’t be bothered with him, and his brothers couldn’t stand him. His friends abandoned him. Shawn Summers was a sad, pathetic man, Tommy thought to himself as the bottle neared its end. That’s why he does what he does. If Shawn couldn’t be happy with life, no one else could. He’s probably laughing and celebrating Randi’s loss of pregnancy. “Fucking bastard,” Tommy shouts as he hurls the bottle towards the ringside area.

“He may be a ‘fucking bastard,’ Thomas, but he didn’t leave his fiance alone at a hospital to drink while she grieved over a miscarriage. I’d say that’s a bastardly thing to do, Thomas.”

Tommy whipped his head around to see Lucian sitting in one of the chairs behind him. Lucian stared at the broken bottle with great sadness, refusing to acknowledge Tommy staring at him in disbelief. Lucian’s eggshell-colored skin appeared to glow under the stadium lights. He reached his hand to his mustache and twisted at the hairs until they came to an upward curl, casting a side eye at Tommy. Tommy felt a chill go down his spine as he saw the snake-like dark eyes of the strange man. He seemed out of place dressed in a black three-piece suit, a top hat, and white gloves, but Tommy dared not to give fashion advice.

“Would you like to know why I’m here, Thomas?” he asked.
“No.”
“Why not?”
“It can’t be anything good. You’re not a good person, Lucian.”
“And you are, Thomas?
“I don’t make deals for people’s souls."
“No. You just take people’s lives and leave their families to deal with the consequences,”
Lucian said. A smile crept upon his face as he knew he had Tommy with that one. “Now that I think about it, I do the same thing. However, I give them a choice. You don’t.”
Tommy reached for the second bottle, but Lucian was quicker. He examined it closely before unscrewing the cap and taking a drink.
“You drank that whole bottle and didn’t offer me a drink. I thought America raised Texas boys with manners. Guess America just raised Texas boys to be killers, right Thomas?”
“What do you want from me, Lucian?”
“Nothing. You’ve already paid your debt. Well, in a way.”

Tommy looked at Lucian with a puzzled look, to which the pale-skinned chameleon raised an eyebrow.

“Oh. You haven’t figured it out yet.”
“What’re you on about, Lucian?”


Lucian shook his head and laughed silently at Tommy’s confusion. He thought better of the Cowboy and was somewhat stunned that he had yet to figure it out.

“Shawn screwed up our deal. The way you won that match with him was not how I had planned for it to happen. No. I planned to tip the scales in your favor and have you defeat Shawn cleanly. But Shawn changed all of that by getting himself disqualified. That was not supposed to happen,” he said, pointing a gloved finger in Tommy’s face. “You got what you wanted, but I had nothing to do with it. So what did I get out of the deal?”
“My soul?”
“To an extent.”
“What does that even mean?”
“I claimed a piece of your soul, Thomas. The piece that was incubating in Randi’s stomach.”

Tommy and Lucian sat in silence as the screech from cicadas echoed throughout the night. Tommy turned to look at Lucian but couldn’t find the words to say anything worthwhile. What could he say? Finding out that none of this was Shawn’s fault was a blow Tommy wasn’t expecting to take tonight. He would’ve done anything to have that bottle that was in Lucian’s hands right about now.

“You took my child away from me,” Tommy declared.
“No. You did.”
“Are you fucking kidding me?”
“You promised me your soul, but you didn’t say which part.”
“You just admitted that Shawn gave me the victory, not you.”
“So?”
“So you didn’t keep up your part of the deal!”
“You should’ve read the fine print, Thomas.”


Tommy balled his fist up and proceeded to take a swing at Lucian but tripped over himself and fell into the chairs in front. Lucian looked down at Tommy in contempt, shaking his head as the cowboy stumbled around, trying to reach his feet, anger steadily filling his body.

“A contract is like a promise, Thomas. I tend to take them seriously. Almost as serious as my friend who’s been waiting to talk to you,” he says, gesturing to the approaching individual slowly walking down the stairs toward them. Tommy needed only to glance at the man in black to know who he was. He went to return his attention to Lucian but found no one.

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Sheriff William (Bill) Harris was a man who commanded respect with his presence. He rarely raised his voice above that of a whisper. There was never a need to. When he spoke, people listened. His mere presence commanded respect. He was a man who believed in honor, integrity, and law. He had a right for every wrong around him.

He may have been a sight in his younger days. One would never know because he rarely spoke about his personal life outside of those he deemed worthy. To everyone else, he was simply the man in black. A black waistcoat over a black button-down shirt tucked into a pair of black trousers and black snaked-skinned boots. A black belt held everything together, accented by a gold buckle - the only piece of color in his ensemble.

His bald head, save for a few strands of hair on the sides, resembled a skull. He would be a frightening visual if not for the uneasy smile that almost always seemed to adorn his face. He walked down the stadium stairs, never losing eye contact with Tommy. Though he smiled at the Cowboy, his eyes showed disappointment at the sight beholden him. Tommy used the railings to aid him as he got to his feet. His heart beat against his flesh rapidly as the Sheriff continued his descent. He ruled not to allow another man to strike fear into him. But, sometimes, we unintentionally break our own rules.

“I’d hoped to catch you in better spirits, Thomas,” he said.
“A lot has happened, sir. Apologies.”
“No apologies necessary from you, my boy. It’s me who should be apologizing. I’ve caught you at a bad time, I see.”
“Wel-”
“Everyone in Sweetwater talks so highly of you, Thomas. They talk about how magnetic your personality is and how charming you can be. They speak as if you were the Lord Christ reincarnated. My boys at the station said that I would be impressed with the man that you are, Thomas. I can’t say that I am.”


Though the words stung, Tommy tried not to react to them. They were never properly introduced to one another, but Tommy knew who Sheriff William (Bill) Harris was. He was dangerous and not a man you wanted to find you late at night on the worst day of your life.

“I’m sorry to hear that, sir, Tommy said, attempting to remain cautious with his words.
“You’re a long way from Sweetwater, Thomas.”
“As are you, sir.”
“I have my reasons, as do you.”
“Are you here for the show?”
“I am. ‘Was invited by a friend I think you know very well.”
“Shawn?”
“I prefer to call him Jacob,”
he said with his trademark smile. “I’ve grown fond of that boy. He is something we don’t see too often in Sweetwater. ‘You know what I mean?”
“I don’t believe I follow, sir.”
“Jacob is sure of who he is. Not many people in Sweetwater know who they are. They think they know, but then do something that shows them they truly are.”


The two sit in silence - a deliberate move by the Sheriff. It didn’t take Tommy long to learn that the conversation would go how the Sheriff wanted, regardless of how he wanted it to go.

“I came to Mexico to arrest you, Thomas.”
“What for?”
“Let’s not play these games, son. You and your friend murdered Bobby Ray Gallimore in the trailer. He deserved to die for what he did - a man should never put his hands on a woman. But it’s not up to you to take the law into your own hands, Thomas. That’s my job. And I promised Bobby Ray’s mama I’d make the men who killed her boy suffer.”


The Sheriff rose to his feet and stood over Tommy. He placed a hand on Tommy’s shoulder and smiled. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a can of chewing tobacco, tacking two fingertips full and packing it in his lower mouth.

“I talked to Jacob before I came here tonight. ‘Told ‘em I was gonna’ arrest you as soon as your match was over. He wasn’t too fond of that,” he said while laughing. “We talked for hours, and I had a change of heart, Thomas. Jacob convinced me that the guilt of you knowing that he knows that regardless of the outcome on Sunday, he’s still a morally better man than you is a punishment that my justice couldn’t dole out. To live with the fact that Shaw- I mean Jacob is a better man is punishment enough.”

Tommy wanted to argue with the Sherriff but knew he was right. Morally, Shawn Summers had yet to sink to the levels that he had. It hurt to admit.

“Thomas, I would advise you to spend the rest of the night and tomorrow with your girl. She needs you more than ever now. Come Sunday, whatever happens, you deserve everything that comes to you, Thomas. You deserve the good, the bad, and the ugly. I look forward to watching, son.”

Tommy blinked and found himself staring at a bedside table. He pulled himself upward with a jolt and examined his surroundings. The stadium, Sheriff, Lucian, none of it was there. Tommy was in his hotel room. His body was drenched in sweat as his heart beat as fast as a runaway train against his chest. Tommy looks bewildered to find himself here. He felt around, grabbing at the sheets and feeling his skin to ensure no deception about where he was. Tommy looked to his left and noticed Randi still asleep, her stomach protruding outward. “She didn’t lose the baby,” he softly says. His voice had a touch of relief as he realized that it was all a dream.

He was careful getting out of bed so as not to disturb Randi. The time on his phone read 3:26 AM. It was late or early, depending on your definition of the two. He went to the window and looked down at the city, noticing a man walking back into the hotel. It seemed Shawn couldn’t sleep either.