FWA 'Back In Town' || Promo Thread

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The ScapeDubb

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The deadlines for the show are:

Sunday 12th February, 2023 at 23:59 Pacific Time.
Monday 13th February, 2023 at 03:00(am) Eastern.
Monday 13th February, 2023 at 08:00(am) UK.
Monday 13th February, 2023 at 11:00(am) Turkey.
Monday 13th February, 2023 at 19:00 Melbourne.

There will be no extensions. Good luckl!​
 

Rosie

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Vampyra Presents...

ReflectionsOfTheSelfV3.jpg


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Following her tag team loss, the FWA Television Champion is in her private locker room area in Spyros Louis Olympic Stadium. Several items have been thrown around the locker room. The walls of the room are painted in the colours of the Olympic rings with its vibrancy faded after over a decade since the games have last passed in the birthplace of them. The FWA Television Championship, perhaps one of the few things undisturbed, rests on the bench. Still in her ring gear, a traditional mix of purple and black with a neon green trim, Vampyra paces back and forth, the young champion feeling on edge. She shouts in Japanese to herself.

“I guess you really didn’t want a championship match?! So instead you decide to put no effort and now I have three people to worry about!?” She lets out a frustrated groan.

“And worse, I had to do most of the work. I nearly had it on my own too! Then you tried to take the glory for yourself?!”

Grabbing a water bottle from a near-by bench, she chucks it hard against the wall, the plastic bottle practically exploding on impact with the cap flying off, falling to the floor. Vampyra sits down on the bench next to her championship. Picking it up, she places it on her lap, looking at the main plate of it. The YOKAI Queen’s eyes are fixated on it. She takes a long sigh.

“The first championship defence is always the hardest and this is made more difficult. Three on one, all because I chose to care.” Vampyra’s hand runs along the main plate, feeling ever groove in the gold metallic plate.

“It has been such a short time, but I feel myself already attached to you. I put my whole spirit into getting you. I even entered a challenging tournament just to get myself ready, to be better for you. I…” Her voice catches, she takes a deep breath. I never hid from a challenge. I never made an excuse, like Summers. Unlike Randall, I never had to rely on the success of others to get ahead. I never… bullied anyone like Darius Wright has. I took a chance to receive a championship match. I won. Then when the time came I earned you. Six years is a long time to go without winning a championship on your own and it took me going out of my comfort zone, leaving home, to get it.”

Holding the championship plate up to her mask, she rests her forehead on it. “I suffered for you. All I want is the chance to return home and show you where I began. The place that my spirit was born so that we could meet one day. You could see the bright lights of Tokyo, the mountains of Hokkaido. Imagine being there for the beauty of the cherry blossoms of Sakura? That would be a dream All that can be gone. Gone soon.”

Leaning back against the wall, Vampyra collects herself. The end of a long European tour leaves her with more worries and burdens than what she entered with. Trying to talk herself out of her mental funk, she reassures herself of something…

“It is a long game. If I know myself and know my opponents, then I should not fear the result of each battle. But why? Why do I feel so bad? Why do I feel so defeated after each one?”

Sitting there, for several moments, Vampyra looks around the room before her eyes fixate on her gear bag. Getting up from her spot on the bench, she reaches into her bag and pulls out a small box. It has a picture of a candle on it.

“How about the old reliable method to clear my head?”

Taking the candle out of the box, she places it on the ground. She grabs a small lighter from her bag and lights the candle. Taking a deep breath in, she takes in a light smell of vanilla, wrapping itself around her nostrils and into her lungs, before she exhales. Sitting cross-legged on the floor next to her, she inhales… and exhales.

In…


And out

Again and again in a rhythm, lowering her heart-rate and taking in the calming scents near her. Returning to a familiar routine, the FWA Television Champion tries to enter her own state of zen. No anxieties. No worries about others. Her mind can slow down and she can truly grasp her emotions.

Under the door of the locker room a shadow begins to creep in. It has no distinguishable shape as it slithers on the floor. With Vampyra’s eyes closed, she doesn’t notice it. The shadow heads to her candle and enters into the flame.

The gentle flame grows brighter, slowly expanding and growing, creating more warmth while remaining controlled. The glow shines on Vampyra’s face as her eyes open slightly and she’s almost blinded from it. She falls back as the flame grows until we see…

A woman standing before her.

Towering above her, the woman’s long black hair shines under the locker room’s lights. Of Japanese descent, her eyes have a warm comfort to them. On her face is some red face paint, accenting the eye shape and two red dots above her eyebrows. She wears a stunning white kimono dress. The belt of it is red with a golden trim. On it, mixed with a matching flower design are little designs that look like flames. With the long loose sleeves of the dress, the lady folds her hands together and gives a warm comforting smile to Vampyra.

“Hello, Katsuki.” She refers to her by her own name, not known to many publically, speaking Japanese. The wrestler sits, stunned, speechless. A woman appeared in front of her eyes from a flame and this is seriously melting her mind. “I figured you would be surprised.” The tall woman gives a comforting giggle. “But I sensed much disturbance in you for some time. But you were not ready to see me. So young and talented. Mature beyond your years but still new to this world with so much to learn.”

In awe of this mysterious guest, Vampyra gets on a knee and looks up, blinking.

“I am your Guardian.” The woman refers to herself. She gives a warm comforting smile to the FWA Television Champion. “I am here to help you look. Look into yourself and into the spirits of your rivals.”

The Guardian extends her hand. “Here. This will help. Lend me your hand and I will take you on a journey.”

Vampyra gazes at the woman’s hand. This experience would be one which a lot of people would question, maybe find unbelievable. But there is a warmth to this woman. Strong, but gentle. Wise and caring. With some hesitation the Dark Huntress grabs the hand of her Guardian and the two disappear in a flame.

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Appearing again through a flame, Vampyra and her guardian appear on the edge of a river in a Japanese city. Evening is coming with the sky being a range from red and orange, to different shades of blue. The lights of the town provide a glow. Vampyra blinks as she sees a familiar sight to her in spring. The vibrant leaves of a cherry blossom tree. In January? The FWA Television Champion’s eyes practically glow upon seeing the beauty of it. Pink leaves rest on the water’s surface with some petals falling onto the ground. Vampyra looks down to notice she is in a matching kimono to that of her guardian, swapping white for purple, and red for pink.

“This pleases you, does it not?” The Guardian smiles at Vampyra. “Sakura. Cherry blossom season. Your favourite time of the year, is it? A symbol of renewal and optimism. Something you need.”

“But, it is not Sakura season? It is winter!”
Vampyra stutters out. She turns to her guardian who just keeps her pleasant smile.

“Do not worry. I will take care of you here.” Her hand lightly touches Vampyra’s shoulder and with it, she suddenly is put at ease. “Enjoy.”

She takes a long look at the blooming cherry blossoms. Enjoy the sights. Something she barely gets to do. Through her mask, a smile appears.

“Wonderful. I am glad you are happy, Katsuki. Now come now. We have much to see."

The Guardian grabs Vampyra’s hand and guides her along the river and closer into town. Nobody appears to notice them as they are walking, a surprise given it is a tall woman and a masked girl walking the streets in matching kimonos. The FWA Television Champion, who has long since been away from home, seemingly being back and during one of her favourite times of the year is in awe of her surroundings, in a state of bliss. Her eyes wander around at the shops, the architecture, and the trees, of course the trees. For a woman who clouds her in-ring persona in darkness, the vibrant pink of the cherry blossoms has her in a cheerful state of mind.

Stopping on one side of the street which has sprinkles of cherry blossoms on them from the pink trees alongside the road, the Guardian holds her hand up and Vampyra stops in place. In the crowd of people walking in the evening, one person stands out on the other side of the street. Wearing a tattered jacket, jeans, and commando boots, a man with thinning hair, a beard storms through the streets. He barges past someone and he shouts with a familiar gravelly voice.

“OUT OF MY WAY!”

Vampyra stands in shock. “R-Randall?” She mutters to herself. “What is he doing here?”

“I sense great anguish in that man.”
The guardian says. “Hunger, selfishness.”

Going up to a food stand, Jason Randall grabs an orange and rips the peel off, taking a large bite out of it. The stand owner, an old Japanese man with a long beard and a cane with a cane, turns to him in horror. “Excuse me sir, you need to pay for that.”

“Like I give a fuck!”
Jason grabs him by the shirt. “This is mine now! That's all I got! So you shut up or else I’ll snap your bones into a twig, understand?!”

The man shutters in fear as Jason Randall pulls on his beard and pushes him down. Vampyra and her Guardian follow. Vampyra is about to rush forward to help, but her Guardian stops her.

“Nothing you can do. They are unable to see us.”

Vampyra takes a look at the old man. Two strangers are helping him up off the ground as he holds his hip in pain. She has a cutting glare towards Jason Randall as he walks down the street. The two follow him.

“Does that man have anyone?” The Guardian asks the FWA Television Champion. She shakes her head.

“He is all alone. It might explain why the man is bitter and hateful. He has nowhere for companionship and love. Yet all he does is take from the efforts of others. The main reason he has a championship match is because his partner, someone who tried to injure him, managed to pin the one I was teaming with. He benefits by proxy and takes the fruits of labour for himself.”

The Guardian nods her head and hums. Taking a long look at the Wildcard walking down the street. “Sounds familiar. I suppose this could shed some light.”

Reaching from her sleeve, she hands Vampyra a looking glass. With a rectangular shape, it is framed by a well crafted silver edge. A fox design appears on the top of it outlined in red. “This is a special looking glass. It gives you the opportunity to see someone’s spirit. Their Yokai.”

Vampyra inspects the glass for a long time.

“Everyone has their own spirit. Give it a try.” She grins at Vampyra, “I trust it will be very revealing.”

Vampyra raises the glass up to her eye and looks through it, pointing it in the direction of Jason Randall. He is gone, and replaced is a skeleton. It is tall and its bones rattle as he walks. The only flesh is around his eyes. A horrifying sight.

“I knew it. Gashadokuro.”

Vampyra glances at her guardian and she continues.

“A skeleton made from the bones of people who have starved. He preys on them, feasting on their blood as they are dying. Upon death, those bones are added to his skeleton.” The Guardian has a smile, “Fascinating, is it not?”

“By fascinating, you must mean horrifying.”


She has a small chuckle. “Maybe to a human like you. But I take a great interest in Yokai. But this can explain his behaviour. The man himself is starving. When was the last time this man won a championship? A match even without interference from another?”

“2017. His only singles victory since I arrived was against a clown. A literal one.”


The Guardian shakes her head. “Poor man. Alone, hungry, starving. No wonder he takes his frustration out on others. He cares so little about others and yet relies on them like a scavenger to get a meal.”

Vampyra’s mind thinks back. She thinks about when she rushed the ring to attempt revenge on Shawn Summers. Her rival escaped before any real damage could be done, but Jason Randall, despite the loss… points towards the FWA Television Championship around her waist.

“I should have known not to dismiss him.” Vampyra talks to herself, “When put his hand on my championship, the gesture felt empty, worthless. What did he do to be in the conversation for any championship? Yet he took advantage of two people fighting their own battles and snuck his way into fighting me. Even after the match, he struck down his own partner to take the spotlight. As if he was able to take it on his own merits.”

Vampyra folds her arms and pouts, “And something tells me a scrounger like him would benefit from a four-way match. As if Summers was enough to worry about.”

Once again, the Guardian puts her hand on Vampyra’s shoulder.

“You are bound to make errors, Katsuki. Daughter of the moon. It is part of life. You did not truly know your enemy until now. Please, stop being hard on yourself.”

She gives a very comforting smile to Vampyra and again her charm is able to give her a sense of calm. She takes a deep breath in and out.

“Perfect, dear.”

“It is appreciated. But I should be able to manage him. He may wait for his moment, but there is no strength. He is only a fragile pile of bones. He will not add me to his pile. He will not scavenge my championship.”

“That’s the spirit.”
The Guardian gives a warm grin. “But it is time to continue onwards. You have more to see.”

Vampyra’s guardian leads her down the street. As they walk, the FWA Television Champion glances up at the pink flowers and leaves of the trees. Even as the sun sets, their vibrance stands out. The Guardian finally stops her in front of a building. It has a lit up sign in Japanese, a mix of blue, red, and yellow with a picture of a barbell.

“Peer inside. I think you’ll be interested.”

In one corner of the gym, seated on a bench we see Darius Wright. The large, hate-filled Dark Traveller is seated on a bench, no shirt on to show his ripped body, with a pair of gym shorts. He has a scowl on his face as he wraps his hands with tape. Near him are several punching bags.

“Is everyone I know here?”

Vampyra asks, puzzled. She presses her masked face onto the glass to look inside. Her Guardian keeps a smile on her face.

“Only those which need to be seen, Katsuki. Those which are on your mind.”

The towering woman points near Darius.

“And, he is not alone.”

Standing next to the Dark Traveler is a shadowy figure. His appearance can’t be made out, but he is leaning in the ear of Darius, whispering advice and motivation for his protege. Thanks to her prior knowledge from those close to her, she has an idea who it is.

“-His Dark Guardian?”

Vampyra’s Guardian nods her head.

“You are not the only one being guided, Katsuki. Though there is something more than meets the eye with him. Take a closer look.”

She points to the looking glass she gave her and Vampyra examines it. Darius Wright puts on a pair of MMA gloves and gets up to work the bag. Raising her glass to her eyes, she sees the true form of the Dark Guardian.

Standing tall, with bulging muscles, he has crimson red skin and a monstrous physique covered by a tiger skinned loincloth. His face has a long beard and sharp fangs coming out from his mouth. His eyes cut with a red glare, devious intentions. Horns and tusks appear on his head and through the side of his cheeks. As he breathes, there is a growl to it. A deep and dark laugh is heard as he watches his pupil strike the bag with heavy rights and lefts, unleashing his anger into the bag.

“As I feared. An Oni. In the west, he is mostly compared to their devil. An orc, a true monster. They are mostly known for their fierce and evil nature manifested in their propensity for murder and cannibalism. Their responsibility is to torment sinners as wardens of Hell. Take your foe. Long ago, he went through his own hell. His Dark Guardian was his tormentor, feeding on his pain in an attempt to damn him to his own fate.”

Vampyra takes a longer look through her glass at the Oni in front of her. She blinks.

“So I must deal with two Oni then? Just my luck…”

“Not quite, Katsuki.”

Resting her hand on the woman she is guiding, the Guardian explains further.

“Only the very worst people turn into oni while alive. Mr. Darius Wright is indeed not a good person, but I sense a troubled past within him, one that leads him down to his own hell.” She looks over to Darius as he is continuing his rage filled strikes to the gym bag. “Maybe someday, if he continues down the dark path he travels, he too might become an oni, but that will not come yet. His Dark Guardian can dress him up with horns, it will be a sham. He’s doing all he can to craft a hard outer shell to hide something soft within.”

“If he is not an oni-”
Vampyra turns to her Guardian. “Then what is he?”

Looking inside the gym Darius hits a heavy right to the gym bag and its worn chains snap off the bar. The bag collapses to the ground with a thud. A fired up Darius Wright stands over the bag and shouts at it, though through the glass, what he says can’t be made out.

Following the command of her guardian, Vampyra raises her looking glass up and sees a reflection into Darius’ nature. In his place is a thick dark cloud, one appearing to be filled with dirt, floating above the ground. Enveloped within the cloud, some markings of a beast is seen with clawed hands and a very hairy face. Sticking out from it are sharp fangs and a long, equally sharp red tongue, swaying with joy at the destruction of the gym bag.

“Akashita, the dark cloud. The red tongue. A dirty creature filled with darkness in its own mind. A dark cloud hovers, not just over your wrestling company, but within him. The sight of an Akashita is a bad omen.”

Vampyra quips, “Then I suppose it was one when he was added to my title match?”

“That’s one way to put it, dear.”
The Guardian closes her eyes, “But I feel great hardship within him. A tortured soul with rage taken out against others. There are reasons one develops into a person they are. Their spirit is formed from their experiences. He’s alone. He’s got nobody else on his side apart from his Dark Guardian. But there comes a time when you are given a chance to break the cycle.”

She turns to Vampyra.To cleanse yourself. You were not there, you were in Japan, but I know one time he did and that was in Philadelphia, August 16th, 2019. Take a look.”

Holding out another small mirror, Vampyra’s Guardian shows a vision through it.

A wrestler is ascending the top turnbuckle in a venue. It is small and intimate but recognizable as the 2300 Arena in Philadelphia, a home to hardcore wrestling. In the middle of the ring, we see a large pile of folding chairs, an astonishing number, likely an entire row of them. A leg is sticking out from the pile, a man is buried under it…

Until the man in the chairs sits up and it is Darius Wright. He gives an intimidating look to his opponent and meets him on the top turnbuckle, sending his opponent crashing into the pile of chairs in the ring! Following that, Darius Wright kicks him in the gut and slams him again onto the chairs with his Dominator “The Dark Cloud.” A three count is made as the official raises his hand, giving him a championship belt. The fans seem ecstatic, welcoming his title win with streamers.

“Impressive…” Vampyra mutters. “And let me guess, he tarnished the good will with his fans?”

Her Guardian gives a friendly chuckle.

“Tehee, you are correct, Katsuki. Here, I think you will find this amusing. From the following show.”

The vision continues on. The new champion, Darius Wright, stands in the ring, and gives this speech.


“...this is what I've wanted from the moment, I saw where the top was two years ago. And I just want to tell each and every one of you that I could have never earned this without… I couldn't have done this without..."

Darius gives a large smile and takes his time to complete the statement…

"MEEEEEEE!!! THAT'S FUCKING RIGHT! YOU SORRY ASS SACKS OF SHITS REALLY BELIEVED YOU HELPED ME?!? ME??? The man who got turned away and beat match after match at the other company? The man who came here at…”

The vision shakes a moment, missing a word.

“Since day one and has carved out his own niche? Really?! I never needed you bastards, you ugly troll-faced imbeciles!”

Seeing the past of her future title challenger, Vampyra shakes her head in disgust.

“You do not approve, Katsuki?”

Vampyra looks long at the mirror. She is shocked. So soon after fans celebrated his triumph, showered him with love and streamers in joy, he lashed out against them. He showed no humility. No grace. Vampyra finds the best way to describe her feelings and explains.

“I know it is impossible to please every fan. Back home, for every group of supporters for myself and my friends of MAYHEM, there are others who dislike our methods, that at times we use chaos to our advantage when needed.” She looks up at her guardian. “And yet THAT is how you treat the people who supported your crowning moment!? I would not dream of lashing out at supporters like that! I would not want to give them reason to change their minds! You show respect to those who show it, and those who do not, you act appropriately! I suppose I know where I must stand with Darius Wright. I will cut that man’s tongue for his words!”

“There is a saying, Katsuki.”
The Guardian puts her hand on Vampyra’s shoulder. “‘The tongue is the gate to calamities,’ meaning that as long as one’s mouth is open, one will never be blessed with good fortune. He opened his mouth and it lead to the destruction of a relationship he was building. Then, his championship. It is up to him to learn that. Though I believe his chances of being saved might be better than one other…" The Guardian turns to Vampyra “And I believe you know who… Follow”

Upon hearing those words, a cold chill goes down the spine of Vampyra. Summers. Shawn Summers. A rush of negative emotions flow to her as her guardian gently leads her down the road. Sensing a disturbance in Vampyra, she lightly pats her back as they walk.

“Now is not the time for that, Katsuki. This is a place of peace. Enjoy the sights.”

Following the advice of her Guardian, Vampyra keeps quiet and glances around, trying to enjoy her time here, but there is a small sense of unease. Down the road, her Guardian holds her hand up to stop Vampyra from moving further as a woman in a suit runs out of a building with a cardboard box filled with her belongings, in tears.

I think we know what bastard caused this.

Turning her head, Vampyra takes a look inside what appears to be an office building and sees a gentleman berating two others verbally. Slicked back blonde hair. A suit and tie with the American flag printed on the tie. There is a smug aura with this man. Who else can it be but Shawn Summers. He slams his hands on his desk and yells at the two people in front of him, pointing and yelling. Through the glass, we can’t make out what is being heard but from his body tone, the spit flying from his mouth as he talks, veins in his head pulsing, the man is upset. Seeing him in this place which is meant to be a happy place to her, Vampyra balls her hand into a fist, taking great restraint from bursting into that room and giving him a piece of her mind. She mutters to herself in her native language.

“Lying snake of a man. Con artist. American pig!”

“I believe there is a saying in some western places. He talks out of ‘both his mouths.’ Quite the character.”
The Guardian chimes in as she watches him with Vampyra.

“His actions never seem to line up. He acts like a stereotypical American politician, flipping his stance and actions. First he complains about the officiating and wishes to remove his loss to Phillip Jackson. Then he attacks both of us, pointing towards my championship, showing he wants to face me. Then upon getting his championship match, he says he does not want to face me or have the championship. He has every chance to withdraw, but he does not. He mocks me for not winning a tournament he SAYS refused to even compete in. He lets me do all the work in a tag team match, tags himself in at the last minute, and fails. He… He…”

“Shhh…”
Vampyra’s Guardian gently places her hand on her shoulder again. Her voice is soft. “I understand. Your emotions are not in vain. You have every reason to be upset with him. The sad truth is that it is in his nature. He’s dismissive of those younger than him. He takes shortcuts while saying others do not work hard. Question, Katsuki, how did you receive your championship match?”

“I won a briefcase…”
Vampyra responds. “Then I won the championship match.”

“And in the time in between, what did you do?”
She asks another question.

“I competed in the F1 Climaxxx. I lost several matches.”

“And who were they against?”
She continues to inquire with the FWA Television Champion.

“Tommy Bedlam… A Double Champion in Alyster Black, former World Champion Michelle von Horrowitz. Then I finally won a match against Kayden Knox.”

“And how did you feel? Feel about all that?”


The next response from Vampyra doesn’t come. She thinks and thinks, but an answer doesn’t come. There is still a genuine level of frustration under the skin. A feeling of being left for dead, but the expectations were not there. So her Guardian rephrases it.

“How did it feel being put into a tournament with some of the best in the promotion?”

Vampyra turns her head towards her Guardian. She blinks, seeing a point she was trying to make. “If you put it that way, I should be proud, and yet, I’m not.”

“And how did you get involved in that tournament?”

“I was chosen. I was chosen as a replacement for an injured champion. I did not ask, but I gladly took on the challenge to prove myself and learn. I was told I was likely not to be chosen anyways for being so new. So I was just as surprised as many when my name was announced.”


The Guardian smiles, folding her hands together.

“You had to fill the shoes of the man who was at the top of the mountain, a mile high above everyone else. You only were there for several weeks and yet somehow, they trusted you with that responsibility. Maybe it was too much too soon, but it is something you should see as good in the end. It will be hard to see it now, but years later, I trust you will look back on it fondly. Do not let the sharp words of Shawn Summers cause you pain. It is his nature… His nature is to cut others down.” She moves a hand forward. “Take a look.”

Vampyra stares at the looking glass in her hand, she holds it up and finally gets a long look at the spirit of her main rival. The shit-eating grin, the suit, the greasy blonde hair, all gone.

Towering above the desk is a large vermin, brown fur with a long slender body. Whiskers on his face which hisses at the two people in front of him. A large weasel with one unsettling exception. As the creature points, it is not with a hand or a paw. Reaper-like psyches sharply point towards them, looking sharp enough to cut through his desk if he wishes.

“Kamaitachi. A sickle weasel. These tricksters often act in groups of three. Their main goal is to act fast and cut people’s legs off…”

Upon the mention of it, Vampyra looks down to her right knee. Though covered by her dress, she moves it slightly, still feeling effects of the attack several weeks ago, though progress has been made. Her Guardian continues.

“The first weasel knocks someone down, the second cuts off the legs, and the third sews up the wounds. They move so fast that people blink and then suddenly realise they no longer have legs. Of course, this one acts alone, likely isolating himself from others. But while his words and actions sometimes remain inconsistent, there has been a common thread. He has continually tried to cut the legs out from under you. Three times in fact. Can you name them?”

Closing her eyes, Vampyra thinks back to those times. A couple of them are obvious, but there is a first one which was subtle and intentional…

“Threatening legal action against FWA. Threatening to overturn his prior match. Taking the spotlight away from the champion and his challenger trying to prove themselves in a hard tournament and putting it on him…”

“Correct. First one named, and that might explain why Phillip A. Jackson’s own performance suffered as well. He was a distraction. Second.”


Thinking back, her knee twitches. In her mind, the familiar sound of steel cracking against her leg repeatedly echoes.

“Attacking us after our match. Injuring me before I had a must win match.”

“Correct again. That time he took the metaphor quite literally, did he not?”
She attempts to add a light amount of humour. She doesn’t even need to ask, Vampyra knows the third time. A fresh wound.

“Then, he abandoned me during our tag match and refused to give the effort required to win.”

Nodding, Vampyra’s Guardian turns to look at Summers who has dismissed the two people he was yelling and hissing at, leaving them in tears. He is muttering something to himself as he grabs a cup of coffee.

“This man is desperate. It is fitting that he is a Kamaitachi. To weasel means to be sneaky, untrustworthy, or insincere. Fits him perfectly. The sad truth is that after this match, he will not go quietly. There will be another excuse he will come up with. Even when reality is in front of him, he chooses to create his own. Soon…”

She looks towards Vampyra. “Vampyra will cut him down. Vampyra will feed on her. That is in her spirit.”

Vampyra’s Guardian raises her hand and snaps her fingers and both of them disappear in a blaze of fire.

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The flames reappear and both Vampyra and her Guardian appear near a steam outside of the city. Beyond the buildings and people is just the gentle sprinkle of the water flowing. Vampyra blinks as the scene becomes clear to her. She looks up and the sky is now blue. A warmth from the sun beams down on her. The vibrant pink bloom of the cherry blossoms are all around her as some petals fall to the stream below and on the vibrant green grass. Giving Vampyra a few moments to collect herself, the Guardian smiles as Vampyra takes a few steps, still in awe at the trees which remind her of home. Looking down at the stream, she sees her reflection. Her signature mask with its sharp fangs, vibrant purple and a neon green trim with the pitch black. Vampyra’s Guardian approaches with a warm grin.

“Glad to see you are beginning to relax. I know how hard it is to manage your stress.”

Sighing, Vampyra stands up. She puts her hand on her hip. “Considering I only got on medication for anxiety on the recommendation of COSMIC management after I fainted before my first match, I have come a long way. Then how about we add that I am in a constant state of jet lag to my state of mind? It is a miracle I am still standing.”

“But you survived.”
She beams a wide smile at Vampyra, “Because you are strong, Katsuki. Vampyra you made strong.”

“But why?”
Vampyra turns to the woman who has been taking her everywhere. “Why are you here? Why did you take me here? And who are you?”

Standing next to Vampyra, her Guardian looks at their reflections in the river. She has a motherly soft tone in her voice. “I am here because you need me. You need some clarity, peace. You want to understand what is happening to you, the people who have hurt you. This is where I can give you an escape you needed while providing a perspective you never knew existed. As for who I am, I said it. I am your Guardian. As for what I am, that may surprise you. Watch me.”

Taking a step back, embers of flame begin to spark up from the Guardian’s feet. Vampyra covers her eyes as the flame grows to a blinding light. The fire goes out and Vampyra takes a look forward and sees nobody. She blinks before she feels something brush up against her leg. Looking down she sees a creature with snow white fur. Four legs, pointy ears, and nine long tails. On the creature’s fur is red markings. Seeing this creature, Vampyra reels back, falling onto the ground in shock. She blinks as the creature sits, tails swaying back and forth. It’s a fox. The creature has a familiar warm grin. Her guardian.

“What? Have you ever seen a Kitsune before?” She chuckles.

Vampyra struggles to find the words. What is going on? This woman appeared in front of her in her locker room, took her to this place, she saw her enemies and… oh yeah, she was a magical transforming FOX this whole time!?

“Don’t worry. I am sure you will get used to it.” She brushes up against Vampyra like an affectionate pet, trying to put her at ease. “We Kitsune are able to change our form and appearance, though this is our true selves. Some act as tormentors, I act as a guide and mentor to those who need it.”

The Kitsune sits on the edge of the stream and looks at the reflections of both of them.

“So, now that you got a glimpse of my spirit. How about you take a look inside yourself? Hold the glass up to the stream and see Vampyra’s reflection.”

Reluctantly, Vampyra holds the looking glass up to her eyes and takes a look at the reflection and sees a woman sitting in place. She has her mask and a kimono. The eyes of the woman open, showing a sharp glare. Slowly, her next expands, winding like a snake. The woman brandishes sharp fangs and hisses then leaps forward, causing the FWA Television Champion to reel back in horror. Her breathing is heavy as she is in shock.

“I-I’m a monster…”

“Correction, Vampyra is a product of past sin. A Rokurokubi”


Moving forward, the fox circles Vampyra.

“Vampyra was a creation from someone else. A woman who wanted to turn you into a blood-fueled killer. The appearance, Vampyra, a vampire. Though a comparable Yokai is a Rokurokubi. A woman given a curse from past sin, one of her own or one of another, it being passed down to her…”

Waves appear in the stream as an image of Vampyra’s past appear. The darker beginning of Vampyra as we see a younger version with darker gear. Over her shoulder is a woman with black and red hair, the leader of Sin, with one hand on her shoulder, having the young star under her thumb.

“She feeds on the blood of her victims, finding warmth in oil lamps. She is a vampire-like creature of Japanese legend, far before the modern depiction came to the shores of the East. Though there isn’t an inherent evil to her, playing tricks on people, there was a tale about a village on Mount Yoshino. The villagers had ring-like bruises around their necks, and all of them wore scarves at all times to cover up their necks. They were all suspected to be Rokurokubi, the ring-like bruises formed because of their nighttime activities.”

Vampyra glances towards the Kitsune, intrigued by the story.

“Their stories have long been told. Scaring drunks, and punishing those worthy of it. They have existed for a long time and Vampyra's spirit is with them. Vampyra is product of sin, but you turned it into your strength. She became a part of you. Vampyra has the capabilities to cause death and pain.” She has a sneaky grin, “Wouldn’t those who wronged you deserve her fury?”

Still trying to grasp what is going on, Vampyra sits down, bringing her knees up to her chest. She blinks. “It is three against one…”

“And you will adapt, Katsuki. Bloodlust is in Vampyra’s nature. Yours is more.”


Confused, Vampyra looks up. “But, I am Vampyra.”

Going behind the FWA Television Champion, the Kitsune hums. “Vampyra is a form of you, just a part of you. A form you take on. Maybe this will make things clearer.”

Using her teeth, the Kitsune pulls on the threads of Vampyra’s mask, loosening it so that it falls off. Katsuki takes a long look at her reflection, her smooth skin often covered by her mask. Her dark bangs which hang over her forehead, the long dark hair of her’s with light streaks of purple. She spends so much time under her mask that sometimes the reflection of her own face seems unreal. Not a brooding monster or a vampire, but a young and pretty Japanese woman.

“Take a look…”

Reaching to the looking glass, she holds it up and sees…

Another kitsune. A dark black fox with long curving tails. Purple marks appear on its fur. Katsuki takes a long look. A Kitsune? Katsuki is frozen in place, a state of surprise.

“For much of your life, you have adapted into different roles, have you not? Just like me. Upon pursuing your passion you took on a masked character, but you always were putting on a show. You put on a show for your parents, for your instructors. Whenever someone needed a certain Katsuki, you gave them it. Once the show is over, only then you escape backstage to be your true self.”

Her guardian sits next to her.

“And yet, the more you wear a mask, the more it becomes part of your face. It was likely why you never abandoned it upon leaving your old mentor and tormentor. She is part of you. Vampyra is a form you take on. She protects you and gives you comfort. You also desire to protect her, protect what she has earned, her reputation. You want to protect what the two of you cherish, that being your championship title. I know you have what it takes. I believe in you, and so do many others…”

From the sky, a cherry blossom gently falls down into the stream and causes a small ripple in the water. The visions of people close to her appear. Several wrestlers she is close to in Japan appear. Front and center are Cali Hayama and Ririko. Next to them, a new friend, Kimmy. A small group of people she has let peer behind the curtain, the performance she puts on for so many people.

“The only question I ask is, do you believe in yourself?”

Reaching down on the ground, Katsuki picks up her signature mask and takes a long look at it. Turning it around, she places it back on her head. Closing her eyes, she takes a deep breath.

“I believe in myself…” She mutters. “I believe in Vampyra. I believe in us.”

Her throat has a light catch in it.

“R-Randall will not steal what I have and put it in his broken pile… Darius will meet his misfortune. I will take the first steps to cutting Shawn Summers from my life.”

Slowly, she turns her head towards the Guardian who has taken her on this journey of self discovery. Vampyra gives her a grin.

“Thank you... Miss? Umm, excuse me. You never gave me a name.”

“Well… Funny you mention it, because-”

“Vampyra!”


A familiar voice echoes and Vampyra blinks.

“Vaaampyyyra!”

The world around her begins to be hazy. The vision of her guardian starts to fade away along with the vibrant cherry blossoms around her. She looks around frantically.

“HEY YO! VAMP!”

Opening her eyes, Vampyra finds herself back in her dressing room, candle from earlier still lit. Standing in front of her, Kimmy. Her friend has a polo shirt with the FWA logo on and a pair of slacks, a more formal look from her first day on the job. Vampyra looks up at her friend, confused, still in a daze. Was everything she witnessed real? Was it in her head again? This is insanity.

“There you are! Seriously, you were super spaced out! I know you get pretty invested in your meditation sessions, but you were like a zombie!”

The masked wrestler squints her eyes. “How long were you there?”

“Only like, two minutes, but you didn’t even hear me come in.”


Getting up, Vampyra blows out her candle and stretches her legs. “So, uh, how was your first day on the job?”

Kimmy grins, feeling ecstatic. “AMAZING! I’ve always wanted to work in TV and the fact I get to do it with one of my big passions is a dream come true. I still got a lot to learn, but it’s great!”

“I am very happy for you.”
Vampyra gives her friend a pleasant grin. "I suppose both of us are chasing our dreams."

“I’ll talk more at the hotel after the show, but Jon Russnow told me to get you so you can sign the updated contract for your Back in Town match.”

"Why you?"
Vampyra asks.

"They all know we're mates..."Kimmy gives a sheepish grin, "I may have mentioned it a lot today. But Jon Russnow wants to have things sorted before they go back to America."

“Fine… I’ll get it over with.”


Sighing, Vampyra follows her friend out of the room but stops herself in the doorway.

“Was all of that… just a dream?” She thinks to herself. She is lost in thought.

“Hey, aren’t you coming?”

Kimmy shouts out down the hallway. Looking back at her bench, Vampyra sees her FWA Television Championship. Taking a prolonged look at it, she gives a small grin.

“I can’t wait to take you home soon…”

Leaving the room, she lets the door slowly swing by her as…

A single cherry blossom petal flies into the room.

Landing next to her FWA Television Championship belt.

A sign of optimism for her future.


KitsuneTheEnd.jpg
 
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The ScapeDubb

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“ARRRRGGHHHH!!!!”

The frustration was evident in the groans coming from Big Bryan Baxter as he stormed through the hallways backstage at Spyros Louis Olympic Stadium in Athens, Greece. It was Friday, January 27th, 2023. Just moments ago, Bryan Baxter had his chase for the FWA Championship come to an abrupt end thanks to Michelle von Horrowitz and those goddamn nephews.

All that effort for nothing. The F1 undefeated streak was over. The FWA singles undefeated streak was over.

Bryan Baxter had been defeated.

And boy was he mad. And boy was he letting anyone and everyone know it.

He moved down the halls of Spyros Louis like the Tasmanian Devil of Looney Tunes fame - a tornado of anger. Anything he could get his hands on was being flung almost like that of a toddler in the midst of an epic meltdown.

“E-e-e-excuse me…s-s-s-s-sir,” a timid and intimidated stagehand tried to jump in front of Baxter and put a stop to his tantrum. “I… really… need you to stop… or… I’m gonna have to…”

Bryan Baxter stopped in his tracks and glared downward at the smaller, skinnier man. The man’s teeth chattered with nerves as Bryan was now literally breathing in his face. “You’re gonna have to do…WHAT EXACTLY?”

“C-c-c-all……uhhhhh…. Security… SECURI-”
Bryan cut him off by grabbing him by the collar of his shirt, lifting him off his feet, and then slamming him back first into the wall.

“YOU’LL DO NOTHIN’!” Bryan snarled, as he held the diminutive backstage worker up against the wall with his right hand and lifted up his right hand in a fist.

“Eeeeeeaaasssssy there, big fella!” the voice of Mr. Bill Scorpane seemed to snap Bryan back to reality as his agent’s heavy footsteps approached from behind. Scorpane placed his hand on the back of Bryan’s shoulder. “How about we put the lil’ man down, alright? He ain’t got nothin’ to do with this.”

Bryan rolled his eyes but reluctantly let the man go. The stagehand scurried off in fear quickly as Bryan turned to face Scorpane. “You suck, you know that. I needed to let off some steam.”

“Boy, I just saved ya from a fine and probably suspension!”
Bryan lowered his head and sighed, resigned to know Scorpane was right. “And besides, he ain’t the reason ya lost, now is he?”

Frustrated, Bryan walked back over to the wall, leaning over in exasperation, placing his forehead up against the bricks. Almost as if he was avoiding the question. “Yeah, yeah, you know it. That’s all on you, my boy! You had that lil’ lady right where you wanted her! All ya had to do was take those knux and knock her on the back of her fuckin' head and we’d be back here celebration’ again! Headin’ to the finals of the F1! One step closer to the FWA Championship! Jeez-us Bryan, what were you thinkin’ out there?!”

Bryan breathed deeply as he continued to lean his forehead into the wall, clinching his fists. “I was thinkin…” Bryan leaned back, bringing his head off the wall and now turning back towards his agent, “that I could do it myself! I had everything under control!“

“Mmmhmmm… based on this whole discussion we’re havin’ - I don’t think ya did.”

“Those fuckin’ Nephews, man! They’re everywhere! It’s ridiculous!”

“Hey, I did what I could and you had the chance…”

“What the fuck could we do - there were like five hundred of them and only two of us. Even if I knocked her out, two more Nephews probably would’ve popped out and distracted the ref anyway. I know I coulda beat her, I just know it. You’re right, I had her right where I wanted her… and that’s before you tried to give me the knux. I could’ve won this match! One of these days… those Nephews are gonna pay…”

“Maybe so… but that’s not really your battle. Plenty of people hate those weirdos, right? You have something else to worry about…”
Mr. Scorpane plopped Baxter’s gym bag down on the floor before opening it up and pulling out the FWA North American Champion. “Look on the bright side, champ, you still got this baby. It’s time to put that focus on putting this Lucy Rose stuff to bed once and for all.”

Baxter reached over and took his FWA North American championship out of the hands of Mr. Scorpane. He rubbed the faceplate of the belt, almost tenderly as he looked into his own reflection on the title. Scorpane was right… what was done was done. Time to look forward. He’s the FWA North American Champion and he has to focus on that now.

“Of course I’m right!” the voice of Scorpane replied to Baxter’s inner dialogue. But the voice wasn’t coming from the Mr. Scorpane in the hallway. No, this was the Scorpane on his left shoulder… the “devil on his shoulder” so to speak. “I’m always right.”

“You again,”
Baxter mumbled to himself. The actual Mr. Scorpane was unaware of the conversation that was about to play out in Baxter’s head between the devil and angel of his conscience. Except, the angel has been missing. Jeremy, the manifestation of his conscience has been missing much like the actual Jeremy has been missing from his actual life for multiple months now.

“You better believe it’s me again, boy!” The mini Scorpane laughed as he puffed on a cigar, “and this time when you take on that flower girl… you better listen to me!

I don’t really have time for this… and why is the other guy still missing?”

“Because we don’t need him! I got you that title not him!”

“Pretty sure you had nothing to do with that.”

“Pardon me? Did you or did you not knock that little girl out with those knux of yours last time? That was all me, baby!”

“I didn’t even mean to!”

“You sure meant to make the pinfall didn’t you?!”


Baxter paused. Again, he hated to admit when Mr. Scorpane was right… even when it wasn’t the real Mr. Scorpane.

“Heeeeeeeeeeeyyyyyy…. How’d I get here?”

Baxter raised an eyebrow in confusion as he turned to his right and found a new entity occupying his right shoulder. Appearing on the “angel” shoulder was a miniature Lizzie Rose. “This is SUPER weird! Wooooaaaahhh!”

“What the Hell? Get out of here!”

“No can do, buckaroo! Looks like I get to be your conscience now! Sweet! Wooah, dude, you gotta do something about this dandruff. Remind me to put some shampoo inception ideas in your head before I leave.”

“No.. no no no on no,”
Bryan shook his head back and forth in frustration. “This is my Hell. Bring Jeremy back!”

“Hell is my specialty,”
mini Scorpane chuckled with another puff of his cigar.

“No can do, bro. You ran him off, remember? He TRIED to help you but you wouldn’t listen. So now I’m here.”

“But WHY? Why would you possibly WANT to be here?”


The petite (even more petite than usual) Lizzie grinned and couldn’t help but giggle, “do you actually think I would choose to be here? You manifested me, dude. You must be dealin’ with some kinda guilt.”

“Hmph,”
the devilish Scorpane scoffed, “guilt is for suckers. Bryan is a winner. He has no business having guilt for anything. He’s the North American Champion for a reason.”

“Yeah, there’s a reason alright! He’s a dirty, dirty, dirty CHEAT! And the fact that I’m takin’ the Jeremy spot on his shoulder says all you need to know. He kinda regrets it!”

“He regrets NOTHING!”
Scorpane answered for Bryan to which the angelic Lizzie responded by sticking her tongue out at her counterpart.

“ENOUGH!” Bryan shouted out with frustration, “look… let’s just say… hypothetically.. Maybe.. JUST MAYBE… there’s somewhere… deep down… that could… perhaps… feel… the teeny… itsy bitsy… bit guilty about it… what am I supposed to do about it?”

While Scorpane shook his head in disgust, Lizzie simply smiled, “oh, maaaan… that’s EASY! Go out there… face me LIKE A MAN! And if you’re gonna beat me… do it CLEAN! Leave no doubt! Be GOOD! Be… more like ME!” Lizzie held her hands up to her face, tilted, and smiled as a literal halo appeared. From the other shoulder, Mr. Scorpane was mimicking vomiting sounds.

As for Bryan, he winced. “Be more like… YOU?”

“Absolutely! Not a bad idea, if you ask me. I AM pretty awesome.”


Baxter shook his head, “no thanks. No one should be that perky. Or nice.”

“EVERYONE should be nice! The world would be such a better place! Don’t you think?”

“Nope! You lost me now. I think I’m with Billy boy… I think I like winning.”

“What?”
Lizzie put her hands on her hips, “You’re making a big mistake. HUGE!”

“Sorry…”
Baxter shrugged his shoulders, “well… maybe not really sorry. But I just lost a really important match… and it SUCKED real bad. I don’t really want to feel that way again… so peace out! Tell Jeremy I said hi and that I’ll see him soon… got something cookin’ that will definitely make him forgive me… but for now… BYEBYE!”

Baxter gave the Lizzie on his shoulder a flick with his fingers, sending her flying through the air. “Hoooooowwwwwww rrrruuuuuuuuuddeeee!” she exclaimed as she flew through the air and disappeared out of sight and out of mind, literally.

“I’m proud of ya, my boy! You made the right choice!” the devilish Scorpane said as he puffed on the cigar one more time before disappearing off his shoulder in a cloud of smoke.

“Are you listenin’ to me boy! Hellloooo? Earth to BAXTER!” the actual Scorpane said as he waved his hands in front of the glazed-over eyes of Bryan Baxter. Bryan snapped back to reality as he shook his head.

“Oh, sorry, what was that?”

“You on drugs or somethin’? No judging or anything but your contract says you gotta disclose this stuff to me.”

“Dude… no of course not… I was just thinking…”

“Trust me, it’s better if you leave the thinkin’ to me in this relationship. And I’m thinkin… we’re gonna crush Rosie at Back in Town.”


Baxter nodded, “absolutely I am.”

Scorpane gave a hearty laugh as he patted Baxter on the shoulder, the pair walked back off together as Baxter thought back to the words from the Lizzie on his shoulder… giving one last shudder to think of what the world would be like if everyone was like her. That was the stuff nightmares were made out of.

BIG BRYAN BAXTER

In

HAVE A NICE DAY.


Friday.


BeepBeepBeepBeepBeepBeep

The annoying sounds of the alarm clock woke Bryan Baxter from his peaceful night of sleep. He rolled over and looked at the clock. 7AM. He reached over and hit the snooze button. He was fine if he had just another five minutes.

BeepBeepBeepBeepBeepBeep

Ugh. Would somebody shut that goddamn thing up?

Bryan rolled over and hit the snooze button again.

BeepBeepBeepBeepBeepBeep.

“OKAY OKAY!”
Baxter said to himself in the bed as he rubbed his hands in his face,I’ll get up.” Bryan tossed the comforter and sheets off and sat up. He looked around, admiring his luxurious hotel room suite as the sunlight beamed in from the penthouse windows. Bryan stretched his arms as he turned to place his feet on the floor.

Wait a minute…

Penthouse suite?

Mr. Scorpane would’ve never booked him to stay in a deluxe room, much less a penthouse. Despite his new status in FWA as a champion, Bryan was always being booked in the cheapest motels money could buy because well… that was Mr. Scorpane. Pinching every penny possible.

And he didn’t even remember going to sleep here. Must’ve been REAL exhausted from the plane ride to Denver. Maybe Mr. Scorpane was trying to make him feel better after the loss to MvH ahead of this rematch with Lizzie Rose this weekend.

Baxter chuckled to himself, “Don’t be silly, Bryan. Of course that’s not why.”

KNOCK. KNOCK. KNOCK.


“Mr. Baxter! Your ride is here, sir.”

His ride? To the interview? They weren’t supposed to be here until 10AM. Bryan looked to the clock on the nightstand… 9:59AM. FUCK! How many times did he hit snooze?!

“Uhh… just one minute! I’m getting dressed!”

“No worries at all, sir. Just let me know when you’re ready!”


Baxter scurried to his suit case, which finding proved to be difficult due to the sheer size of the penthouse suite he was staying in. But he did manage to find it and shuffled through his clothes - grabbing a black button up shirt and then sliding on a pair of blue jeans. He finished off his ensemble with a white pair of sneakers. He then rushed to the bathroom and grabbed a razor and shaving cream before opening the door.

The young man at the door greeted Bryan with a smile. “Ready, sir?”

“Uhhm,”
Bryan said, gasping for air from his mad dash to get dressed, “is it okay if I shave in the car?”

“Sure, why not?”

“Thanks… you’re a life saver.”

“Happy to help!”


Baxter loaded up into the back of the young man’s Honda Civic as they made the drive over to the Ball Arena. The Back in Town show was just two days away and everyone was being forced to do these lame ass interviews with the wrestling media. Interviews were most definitely Bryan’s least favorite part of being a wrestler but Mr. Scorpane insisted on booking them to keep his name out there.

As Baxter finished lathering up his face for his car shave, he noticed the car had stopped moving. “Hey, what’s goin’ on?” Baxter questioned.

“Sorry, sir. Looks like a bit of a traffic jam. Looks like we’re gonna be late after all.”

“Dammit!”
Baxter swore, causing the young man to wince and look back at Baxter with confusion.

Language.”

Baxter’s eyes grew wide. Really? Language. Great, his driver is one of THOSE people, huh.

“Look, just honk your horn and tell these jerks to get outta the way! We got places to be!”

The driver simply shrugged his shoulders, “no no. I’m sure there’s a perfectly reasonable explanation for the hold up. Everyone here has places to be and not one of us are more important than the other.”

Baxter shook his head, “that’s where you are wrong. I’m a kind of a big deal. I’m the FWA North American Champion and I need to be at this interview in like five minutes.”

“Sorry sir, out of my hands. How about I play you some 90’s dance music to help pass the time.”

“No.. please don’t…”
but it was too late, the driver had already turned on the radio.

And so they sat… moving inch by inch… each minute the anxiety growing for Baxter knowing that Mr. Scorpane was going to be absolutely pissed off that he missed his interview time…

The driver finally got Baxter to the Ball Arena. Sure it was ninety minutes late but he got them there nevertheless.

Bryan exited the car in a rush, not bothering to thank his driver at all. But the driver rolled down his window and waved at the dashing Baxter and shouted out, “have a nice day!”

Baxter rushed through a crowd of excited fans, making his way towards the press area but not before bumping into someone.

“Heeeey!” the other person reacted as he dropped his coffee to the ground. Turning around, Bryan had realized he had ran smack into Nate Savage.

“Woah… sorry man. Listen, Nate… I know we have our differences… but I was just in hurry and I’m real late to this interview and…”

Much to the surprise of Baxter, Nate’s face lit up and he smiled at Baxter, “if it isn’t ole grumpy pants himself! Big Bryan Baxter! Bring in ya big lug! Feels like forever!”

Okay, now this was getting really weird. His long time rival was greeting Baxter with a big ole bear hug instead of what he expected to receive for inadvertently bumping into him, which would’ve been a punch in the face.

“Soooo… how ya been?”

Wiping the sweat off his brow, Bryan shook his head in confusion. “I’m sorry… how have I been? You are asking how I have been? What?”

“Yeah, of course! How’s Jeremy? That skamp! What a character he is. Jackson really misses their hangouts, you know. We should really go play minigolf again. That was a BLAST!”

“I think you’re misremembering that… but look, I’ve got to get to..”

“Oh man, where are my manners? I haven’t introduced you to my family. Here’s my wife and my kids, and let me just tell you… believe it or not… they are real big Bryan Baxter fans! Do you think you could take a minute and..”

“‘Fraid not! Gotta go!”
Bryan said in a hurry, not stopping to meet Nate’s kids because for one, Bryan doesn’t like kids. For two, he had somewhere to be. And for three… well, what the fuck was going on? The holier than thou driver was one thing, but now a happy go lucky Nate Savage? Did Bryan wake up in Bizarroland?

Bryan made his way into the arena where the ring has already been constructed. This was the location the interviews were taking place as at the moment it was Chris Peacock being interviewed in the ring. But off to the side, Bryan saw what he feared. Mr. Scorpane standing by, looking at his watch and tapping his foot on the floor. Clearly he was annoyed and impatiently waiting on Bryan’s arrival.

Bryan cautiously approached his agent, “Mr. Scorpane… I’m sorry.. I…”

“BRYAN!”
Mr. Scorpane shouted out.

“Look, I know this interview was really important and all… and man… I had such a WEIRD morning…”

Scorpane approached Bryan… and wrapped his arms around him! “I’m so glad you are okay!” Bryan winced and struggled against his second awkward hug in the last several minutes. Bryan managed to pry himself away from the clutches of his agent.

“Of course I’m okay. What’s going on?”

“We were all just worried sick when you didn’t show up. That’s not like you! We thought the worst.”


Baxter paused, once again confused about the interactions he’s been having this morning. “So… you thought I died?”

“Oh, dear God no! Wow… you got real morbid there! No, we thought you had gotten lost.”

“That… was what you thought was the worst case scenario?”


Mr. Scorpane smiled and nodded. “But now you’re here! And we can get you interviewed.”

“I’m like almost two hours late. I don’t think they’re gonna want to deal with all that. It’s fine though, I really don’t min…”


Mr. Scorpane interrupted, “pish-posh! They’ll be happy to see you! C’mon!”

“Pish? Posh” Baxter questioned softly to himself as Mr. Scorpane took him by the arm and walked him towards the ring.

Inside the ring, Chris Peacock was continuing his interview. He was, of course, discussing his big FWA Championship opportunity against Devin Golden at the Pay-Per-View. “And gee wiz, I just know it’s gonna be an amazing match! Mr. Golden is such a talented performer. I am looking forward to going toe to toe with him for the biggest prize in all of wrestling. At the end of the day, may the best man win.”

Now, Bryan Baxter hasn’t had many interactions with Chris Peacock. He did defeat the Boogie Man during the F1 run but other than that it has been limited. But he does know enough to know that Peacock would never be so cordial when discussing the FWA World Champion. Something was off. Something just wasn’t adding up.

“Pardon me,” Mr. Scorpane spoke up, lifting up his arm to get the attention of Peacock and the interviewer. “Bryan is here now. No rush or anything, be when you’re ready, he is ready.”

“Oh that’s splendid,”
Peacock said with his eyes lighting up, “we were so worried about you, Bryan!”

“That is indeed wonderful!”
the interviewer also perked up, “let’s get you in the seat. Mr. Peacock was just wrapping up.”

Peacock nodded in affirmation as he stood up. “Time to get my groove on. See you boys later. And have a nice day!” Chris lifted up a set of earphones, placing them on his ear as he pulled a Walkman out of his pocket, hitting play and the tunes of “What is Love” by Haddaway begins to blare loud enough to be heard by those standing by. “Peace out!” Peacock said, lifting up two fingers as he exits the ring, bobbing his head to the side to the beat of the song.

Baxter took Peacock’s place in the seat and began his interview. He struggled through the questions… the usual fluff stuff about the show and his match. Baxter’s head was elsewhere. He continued to try and figure out why everyone is acting so peculiar. And Peacock listening to a 90’s song instead of disco? None of this added up. And then he realized this interviewer wasn’t even asking any hard questions. Typically there’s one or two questions during these things that Bryan outright refuses to answer. But yet these had all been softball questions. Not even a question about his strained friendship with Jeremy.

The interview concluded and the interviewer thanked Bryan for his time with a firm handshake. Baxter simply nodded and then walked back over to Mr. Scorpane. “Okay, Bill… you’ve gotta tell me what’s going on?”

Mr. Scorpane didn’t seem to grasp what Baxter was getting at. He looked around, “what do you mean?”

“Why is everyone… acting so weird?”


Still, Scorpane seemed confused. He shrugged his shoulders, “I don’t understand.”

“C’mon, cut the shit, man!”


Scorpane’s eyes grew wide at the utterance of the curse word escaping Bryan’s mouth. Others standing nearby who could overhear the conversation gasped audibly. He quickly reached over and covered Bryan’s mouth. “Shhh!”

Resisting the urge to punch his agent in the face (something he actually has to regularly restrain from, but this was a new reason), Bryan pulled his hand away. “What the fu…”

“SHH!”
Scorpane said once again, interrupting Bryan before he blurted out an F-bomb. “What’s gotten into you, Bryan? Are you okay?”

“AM I OKAY?”
Bryan said, his voice getting louder with his frustration. “Look around! I’m the only one that seems to be OKAY.”

More and more eyeballs began to turn towards the irritated Baxter, as Mr. Scorpane tried to get control over the situation. “Maybe you just woke up on the wrong side of the bed or something. Look, just go back to the hotel, get some rest and get ready for this weekend. We all want you at your best for a great match on Sunday.”

“Fine,”
Baxter resigned, “that’s actually not a bad idea… not being around all this right now sounds nice. And I definitely won’t mind spending some more time in that hotel room.”

“Glad you liked it! Only the best for my champion! I’ll ring for the driver. Oh and Bryan…”

“Yeah?”

“Have a nice day!”


Still completely weirded out by the uncharacteristically jovial and benevolent Mr. Scorpane, Baxter made his way back out of the arena and through the crowd. Within no time, his driver had returned in his Honda Civic. Bryan headed towards the car but was once again stopped by Nate Savage. “Bryan! Hey man! Got a minute? My kids really want your autograph!”

“No time, gotta go!”
Bryan said, brushing by Savage with a slight shoulder bump as he picked up his pace to try and avoid more human interaction. Bryan quickly walked his way to the back of the Civic as Savage waved with a goofy grin on his face, “Well alright… have a nice day!”

As Baxter loaded up into the car and it drove away, two pairs of watching eyes were concerned. Joe Burr and Trixie Bordeaux watched on, having witnessed the outburst by Baxter in the arena. “Oh dear, oh dear,” Trixie said with trepidation, “this is not good at all.”

Joe Burr nodded as he grabbed his cell phone from his pocket and began punching in some numbers. “Nope. Not one bit.” Burr lifted the phone up to his ear. “Hey boss… we got a problem.”



Saturday.

BeepBeepBeepBeepBeepBeep

Baxter reached over and slammed his hand down on the alarm clock. A new day had dawned. Bryan had spent the rest of Friday enjoying the luxury of his hotel room and hoped that with a new day would come a return to normalcy. Maybe it was a full moon or something yesterday. Or perhaps… it is Denver. Perhaps everyone he met yesterday had been partaking in some legal marijuana. That might explain the good moods. Good as excuse as any.

But in any event, he wondered if he could just stay in his hotel for the rest of the weekend until he absolutely had to be in the arena for Back in Town, but he knew Mr. Scorpane wanted to meet for breakfast. Luckily the place he had chosen was within walking distance. He’s okay minimalizing the people he talks to this weekend.

So Bryan got dressed and headed downstairs to the lobby. But before he could even make it out the doors of the hotel, Baxter was stopped by the manager. “Excuse me, Mr. Baxter, sir!” Baxter stopped in his tracks. “You have guests who have been waiting for you.”

Baxter was once again confused, he wasn’t expecting any guests and couldn’t imagine who would want to actual visit with him. Even more confused when he turned to find that the people waiting for him were two fellow FWA wrestlers - the vertically challenged Joe Burr and FWA newcomer Trixie Bordeaux. “What do you want?” Baxter said, not interested in mingling with colleagues today.

“Mr. Baxter, we’re uh…” Trixie stumbled over her words, “we’re uh… gonna need you to come with us, please. If you don’t mind, of course.” Burr looked over to Trixie and nudged her with his elbow. “I mean… no… you must come with us….. Please.”

Burr shook his head while Baxter clearly wasn’t interested. “Uh, yeah no thanks. Gonna pass.” Baxter turned to head out the doors, but Joe Burr stepped out in front of him. “Out of the way, pipsqueak.”

“What my partner is trying to say is… this isn’t a choice. You’ve got to come with us.”
Burr asserted.

“And I said.. SCRAM! Beat it, kids.”

Baxter grabbed Joe by the shoulders and began to force him out of the way, but Baxter would be surprised by a shocking sensation going through his body as Joe Burr had utilized a concealed taser that he had quickly retrieved when Baxter made contact with him. Baxter dropped to his knees… “Fffuuuuccck!”

Trixie showed some concern as she approached, “was that really necessary?”

Joe nodded his head, “how exactly do you expect the two of us to get him to Lizzie on our own? Look at the size of him!”

“I’m sure if we asked nicely enough…”

“You saw this guy yesterday. There’s no asking him nicely. Something must’ve gone wrong with his dose. Maybe Lizzie didn’t adjust for his body mass… he may need a bigger dose to get it to work.”

“Can we at least apologize to him for it?”

“Fine,”
Burr compromised as he turned back towards where Baxter had been sitting on the ground… to find it empty. “Where’d he go? Did you see him get up?!”

Trixie shrugged as Joe huffed. “Wait,” she perked up, pointing towards the door, “there he goes!”

Bryan had managed to stumble to his feet and escape through the hotel doors into the streets of Denver. He was slower than usual thanks to the shock to his system, but he was scurrying as now Joe and Trixie were in hot pursuit. Suddenly, a blue Toyota Prius pulls up and stops on a dime next to Baxter. The window rolled down… “Get in!” Bryan knew that voice.

It was Jeremy Best!

Bryan wasn’t stopping to figure out how Jeremy managed to be there at the exact time he needed him, but Bryan was more than happy to swing the passenger door open and jump into the seat. He slammed the door and Jeremy peeled back off into the road as Joe Burr and Trixie caught up, stopping as they realized Bryan had gotten away.

Meanwhile, in the car, Bryan had a lot of questions.

“I’m sure you have a lot of questions,” Jeremy said omnisciently, “but you look famished, here…” Jeremy tossed him a bottle of water.

“That’s an understatement,” Bryan confirmed as he twisted the top of the water off and took a swig. “What the Hell is going on, Jeremy? Why were those two weirdos coming after me?”

Jeremy shook his head, biting his lip as he continued to drive, “I’m afraid I kinda have something to do with this.”

Bryan turned and glared at his friend and partner, “wait, what do you mean?”

“I mean… not completely but I helped her. I thought it sounded like such a great idea. Boy was I wrong.”

“Can we rewind? What the actual fuck is going on?”

“Lizzie came to me a while back when I was at my lowest. The Krash Crusade had been a failure, I came up short in the Golden Opportunity and then I felt like you really stabbed me in the back… but Lizzie was there for me. And it was something she said… she said wouldn’t it be nice if everyone were like me and her. If everyone always thought about others feelings. If everyone was selfless and giving. If everyone was… nice.”

“So wait… that’s what’s going on. Everyone is just being nice? Even Mr. Scorpane. But how?”

“It seemed like a good idea at the time, you know. I agreed with her. It would be nice. And I don’t know how she did it, Bryan. I really don’t. But it’s like she took my confirmation and then everything that happened with her losing the North American Championship… she put her plan into action. I should’ve tried to stop her… I actually thought it was just a joke, to be honest. But now everyone is just so nice!”


Baxter leaned over in his chair, holding his head in his hands. “So what… those two back there wanted to make me like everyone else? Like Lizzie?”

Jeremy nodded as he took a hard right turn. “They have become close associates of Lizzie. Agents of Nice basically. For some reason, it appears you are the only one who hasn't been affected by the transformation.”

“What about you, Jeremy? Why are you helping me?”
Bryan asked as he took another big gulp of the water.

“We may have had our differences lately, Bryan. But you’re still my friend. And I still will always be there for you when you need me.”

Bryan leaned back in the chair, feeling relaxed by the calming words of his friend. “You’ve always been a good person, Jeremy. And you didn’t even need Lizzie’s nice serum or whatever to be that way.” Bryan felt a sense of peace being with his friend again. “So, where we going.”

“Uhmmm…”
Jeremy hesitated looking all around but not at Bryan. Bryan’s heavy eyes opened up to see Jeremy flustered. “I hadn’t really… uhh… thought about it I guess… maybe just drive around for a bit… yeah?”

Having been partners and friends with Jeremy for some time, he knew a lot about Jeremy. Jeremy was good at a lot of things. But there was one thing that Jeremy was absolutely awful at. And that was lying.

Bryan could tell Jeremy was hiding something.

“Jeremy…” Bryan started, but felt it hard to even get the words out of his mouth. He realized that relaxation he was feeling wasn’t natural. His entire body felt heavy. Almost impossible to move. He looked down at the water in his hand. Why hadn’t he noticed how cloudy it was. His hand released the water, it falling to the floorboard of the car as he was unable to hold it anymore.

“I’m sorry buddy…” Jeremy sincerely said, “I really do care about you. I really want you to be the best you can be. I want you to be a good person, like me. That’s why… this has to be done.”

Bryan tried to protest but he was unable to move. He wanted to plead to his friend but the words just couldn’t come out. His eyes were no longer able to keep themselves open. Bryan leaned back in the chair of Jeremy’s Prius and fell asleep.

Jeremy took a deep breath before exhaling in a big sigh of relief. He pulled over, parking the car on the curb back having circled the block and now parked back in front of the hotel. Jeremy rolled down the window.

“Well?” It was Joe Burr, struggling to peer up into the window of the car.

“Let Lizzie know… it’s been done.”

“Yay!”
Trixie exclaimed, “good work, Jeremy!”

“Excellent. Thank you, Jeremy.”

“You’re welcome… and… have a nice day.”

“Have a nice day.”

“Have a nice day.”



Sunday.

The night had come. It was the night of Back in Town and the Ball Arena was filled to the brim. The sold out crowd ready to watch all their FWA favorites go at it while also paying their respect to the fallen former FWA Champion Krash. Each fan filed in and politely and respectively made their way to their seats.

Lizzie Rose made her way down to the ring first as the North American Championship match was about to get underway. She received a hero's welcome from the Denver faithful as there was not a single person sitting in their seat as she walked out from the back. She was accompanied to the ring by her Agents of Nice - Jeremy Best, Trixie Bordeaux and Joe Burr. Lizzie was brimming with confidence as she entered the ring.

It was not quite such a warm reaction for Bryan Baxter as he walked out. But the niceness of the crowd would not allow them to actually boo the North American Champion. Instead it was mostly uncomfortable silence as he walked out from the back with a smiling and waving Mr. Scorpane. Bryan also surprisingly had a smile on his face as well.

Bryan climbed into the ring and met Lizzie in the middle of the ring.

“Good to see you, Bryan.” Lizzie said as she met her opponent in the center of the ring. She extended her arm out to the champion.

“Nice to you see,” Bryan returned the greeting as he took her hand and shook it.

Lizzie grinned, “you know what would be rrrrreeeeeaaaalllllllly nice?”

“What’s that?”
Bryan asked, inquisitively.

“If you just let me have that belt back. You know, out of the generosity of your heart, of course.”

Bryan looked down at his North American title around his waist. He unstrapped it and held it in his hands. “Yeah? That’d be nice of me?”

Lizzie eagerly eyed the title in Baxter’s hands. “Oh yeah, most definitely! It’d be awesome of you!”

“Well,”
Bryan said before a long pause as he gazed at the title longer. “I don’t want to be rude.”

“Yeah, yeah, definitely not,”
Lizzie nodded fervently. “And the way you took the title from me was super rude to begin with, ya know. It’s only fair.”

“Only fair,”
Baxter repeated in a monotone drawl. He slowly reached out with the belt, bringing it towards Lizzie. Rose happily grabbed for the title and went to pull it into her own grasps…

But she only tugged at the belt.

It wasn’t budging from Bryan’s hands.

“Nah,” Bryan smirked, “I think I’ll keep it.” He then pulled on the title, bringing Lizzie into him for a big LARIAT that send Rose flipping over to the canvas.

The match was officially underway as Lizzie sat up on her knees. “I don’t understand…” She looked to ringside where Burr, Trixie, and Jeremy were all questioning one another.

“Sorry, well not really sorry,” Bryan said with a smirk, “I just don’t quite get it.” Bryan moved in and gave a stiff kick right to Lizzie’s ribs. “People keep wanting me to change.” Another hard kick to Lizzie’s ribs. “People keep wanting me to be more like them.” Kick. Kick. Kick. “But look at this world you’ve created.” Bryan grabbed a handful of Lizzie’s hair and pulled her up off the mat. “A world full of Lizzie Nicebots? It’s BORING!”

Headbutt!

“I’m just gonna keep being me, if that’s okay. Actually, no… I’m not being nice. I’m not asking for permission.”

From ringside, a slight smile was on Jeremy’s face as Bryan glanced over to him and noticed his friend. Bryan then proceeded to continue his beatdown on Rose. Not letting up for one second. Just brutal kick after punch after headbutt… busting Rose’s nose open. Even Mr. Scorpane at ringside was wincing watching the punishment being dished out by the champion.

The match was dominated by Baxter, eventually causing a concerned Joe and Trixie to climb the apron. Unfortunately this just distracted the FWA official and allowed Bryan to pull out his brass knuckles. Now mind you, he didn’t even really need to use them. He had the challenger down and out. Dead to rights. She’s done for. But… he just really wanted to prove a point.

This was who he is.

He pulled Lizzie up and held her bloodied face in front of his…

“Have a nice day!”

And he proceeded to punch her square in the face with the brass knuckles.

Lizzie Rose collapsed to the mat. Motionless. Bryan sat down on her chest with a smirk as the FWA official returned to make the three count.

While the crowd was not happy with the outcome, Bryan Baxter had one of the biggest smiles in his life as he got up to his feet. He picked his title back up and held it up in the air while Trixie, Joe, and for some reason even Mr. Scorpane came to check on Lizzie and help her out of the ring.

Jeremy Best climbed up onto the apron of the ring before stepping in, finding himself staring across the ring from Baxter.

“Congrats, Bryan. Well done.”

“I still don’t quite get it…”
Bryan said as he draped his championship belt across his shoulder, “I thought you were part of all this. I thought you wanted me to change. I thought you wanted me to be nice. To be good.”

Jeremy shrugged, “I did. But I was wrong. We became partners… friends… when you were Big Bryan Baxter. You are you and I want you to be you. I couldn’t rob you of that. And yeah… I guess I can kinda see where being around nothing but a bunch of Jeremy Bests would probably make people go… a little crazy maybe.”

Baxter laughed, “yeah, let’s just stick to one Jeremy in the world, okay? So… you didn’t drug me? Or am I just super immune to being nice?”

“Nah, just a sedative. Had to make it look like it worked at least.”


Baxter gave Jeremy a nudge on his shoulder, “you sly dog! I didn’t think you had it in you to be deceitful!”

“Hey, I meant it when I said I had your back. And I’d do anything for a friend.”

“We’re about to hug aren’t we?”

“You know me too well!”
Jeremy ran in and gave his friend a big hug and Bryan gladly returned the embrace of his friend.


Sunday.

BeepBeepBeepBeepBeepBeep

Bryan awoke in his hotel room. His body wrapped up with a blanket that barely covered up his entire body and the daylight started to peer in through the tattered blinds hanging above them.

This was more like it. The ole Motel 6. Thanks Mr. Scorpane, he thought to himself. Never change.

Bryan got out of his bed and he was pretty sure he saw a cockroach scurrying away as he made his way over to the mini fridge to grab a protein shake.

It was the night of Back in Town.

Tonight he would defeat Lizzie Rose in their rematch.

And he didn’t care how he won. As long as he won.

It was going to be a nice day.

No, a great day.

The best day.
 
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CakeWalker

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Grayscale

The scene begins in a very plain room, with Madison Gray sitting down dressed in her karate gi and looking directly at the camera. The producer has decided to give the promo a more edgy feel, by grey tinting the shot so that all colour is removed from the shot. Perhaps this has been done so that the only focus is what Madison has to say and not what she looks like. Gray pauses for a second before she breaks the silence and subtle tension that is present between her and the fourth wall of the audience.

“A cliche question in this sport is always - why are you here? Why have you joined the Fantasy Wrestling Alliance? For some they talk about wanting to be the best wrestler that the world has ever seen and with that bring home all of the title gold and cement themselves as the greatest professional wrestler of all time. Now, I would be lying if I said that isn’t something I don’t want, but I don’t think anyone involved in wrestling whether it is in the ring, outside of it or watching at home doesn’t want to experience that. That isn’t why I am here though.”

Madison pauses for a moment and readjusts the sweat band on her head, which seems more like a nervous habit rather than something that is actually necessary.

“The reason is actually very simple. This world. This life. This is the best chance I have to make something of myself and actually have a future that is worth anything. Where I come from? What my future would have looked like without the Dojo that I found only a few years ago - that future was bleak. And that was not a future that I wanted for myself and that is why at every opportunity I have worked myself to the bone learning as much about Karate and Taekwondo as I possibly can. Sensei Nakajima offered me an escape route and one that had more than one exit door the day he let me train in his Dojo, despite not having the monetary means to actually pay for my membership. And even if I had extra money at hand - it would have gone towards the kitty. There wasn’t much money to work with at my Nan’s house and the most important thing was food on the table and the heating on in the winter. She was all I had - she was everything, and that is why I am here.”

Madison turns around and pulls a framed photograph of an elderly woman and shows it to the camera as she continues to speak.

1L7vkZgzCf3nOijIIWueA7LuMqG1XgxMzmjsFpIfiHQsFXER9U4O7y1l9eS2cYwiuG42_X1sZf6EZXKDja0Qhq2yhVrPvn5O_sWq2AXgwFpXhcjoRxbVseGfKS4606bqlfKiCzLJOwBCYIPXCORaaQg


“This was my Nanny. Pamela Forswaite - she was my Mum’s Mum. And she is the only reason I didn’t end up in social care. My Dad was a horrendous gambling addict and when he used up all our money as well as selling off anything of value to feed his addiction, he then turned to criminal elements to secure a loan. A loan he was never able to pay off and a debt which led to his disappearance. Did he go on the run or was he buried on a building site somewhere in an unmarked grave covered in concrete and likely underneath property? That is an answer I will never know and also an answer I don’t even care about. He chose himself. I suppose that was a match made in heaven really with Mum - another person that chose themselves over everyone else. She dropped me off at school when I was nine and then never collected me from school. Nanny Pam had to pick me up - and when we got home all of my Mum’s stuff was just gone and that was a note left. This note.”

Madison pulls out a note from her pocket and shows it to the camera.

aN8QKkB9rDkRUGtWclUU7OmV3IZ0wdUTcpPHZEjOGHIBNp2dhIXMnsKUOTdQTKGHHUdFnNXQ8XI5pYrpHWTW8Zk7TYI2eUAHi4XyI8-dO5MWZw1kF2QruQLL9wBmt8L1ANWu-rvy_yQtVVN97n1O3bo


“Except I was the person to find the note first - so Nanny couldn’t even do the adult thing and sugarcoat it and tell me a lie that was more suitable for a nine year old to hear. And for anyone watching this isn’t a character or a work - this is a shoot. What you are staring at is the product of a broken home - a child that wasn’t wanted by either of her parents. But my home wasn't broken - it was just never my home, just somewhere that I used to live. Pamela’s house - that was my real home and she passed away. That was the saddest day of my entire life and a feeling I never want to have to experience again. But it was her final words to me - that is the reason why I joined the FWA.”

Madison pauses for a second looking to have a shaky lip and clearly processing some deep emotions.

“She told me to become the best version of myself - and that I would never become that person if I stayed in Portsmouth. So I knew that no matter what - I needed to leave home and make something of myself. So that Is why I am here. I bring all the skills I learned in the Dojo - just to be given the opportunity. The opportunity to compete. The opportunity to earn respect. And for the right to no longer be seen as a Young Lioness - but as a fully fledged member of the roster. I know one thing for certain - and that is that I am looking forward to getting on the fly and coming to America and making it my new home. Because home, home is where the heart is.”
 

Rosie

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Princess Nova Royally Presents...

Expression.jpg


In a secluded part of The Residence, there is a hallway leading up to a spiraling staircase. The dark green carpet of the floors leap up to the dark oak wooden staircase and wraps itself to each individual step. Along the walls of the house, which have ornate markings on them, we see a collection of oil paintings, most of them depicting the Bassigani family with some minor alterations. Each individual picture with Slate and Eden, Keres’ parents, has their eyes whitened out, blank. Sticking out the most from the collection of paintings is one near the steps. The art depicts an old tree with jagged branches and no leaves with the grey sky in the background. There is a glimpse between the ground of the roots of the tree, connecting to four people. Eden, Slate Bass, Princess Nova, and Keres. The roots wrap around each of them, tying them together as one family. Hanging over the hallway is a glass chandelier with some pieces of glass shaped like flowers. It is lit up as the lights dance off the crystals.

Humming through the air is the echoes of the strum of an acoustic guitar. There are a few practice strums to make sure the instrument is finely tuned, before we hear more strumming and a woman’s singing voice. It’s familiar and is soft.


Song

“I love making you believe…

What you get is what you see

But I'm so fake happy


I feel so fake happy”

Going up the stairs, a girl sits on the steps holding an acoustic guitar. PLastered on the guitar is a collection of stickers. A rainbow with a cloud, a smiling emote, a heart with stripes of blue, magenta, and purple, and more of various interests. The face is identifiably Princess Nova, but her appearance is completely unlike what FWA knows her as. She has a pair of faded blue jeans with rips in them and a pair of skater shoes. She has a baseball tee on with three-quarter blue sleeves. The white base of her shirt has splashes of colour on it. Even her black hair is replaced by a splash of colour with streaks of all colours of the rainbow in it. Topping the look off is a baseball hat turned backwards. She continues to sing.

“And I bet everybody here


Is just as insincere

We're all so fake happy


And I know fake happy”

Noticing the camera, she stops playing her guitar. Her eyes glance to the side as she places the guitar down.

“What, my friends?” Her voice still carries the same elegance as normal. “Did you expect something else?”

She has a whimsical giggle as she folds her hands.

“I was just expressing myself. Like how I used to…” Princess Nova has a slight head tilt. Her voice has a chill to it. “For one last time…”

“But I did it for you!”
The TORN Angel has a child-like laugh as she has a wide grin.

“Because I’m about to have my first match as part of the FWA roster, and not many people truly know me. Most importantly, people don’t know where I’ve come from. I didn’t just wake up one day and decided that I was a Princess.” She puts her hand on her cheek, “Though, I did dream of it. But it was a long road to accepting me… for how I want to be. I’ll be continuing my story in FWA soon, but what’s the use if you don’t even get the first chapter?”

Standing up, Princess Nova leaves her old guitar on the stairs.

“Follow.”

Going down the steps, the paintings around the TORN Angel begin to change. A young girl stands in the middle of the frame. She has overalls on with a striped shirt. Plastered on her face is a cartoonish yellow smiley face. She holds the hands of her parents. A father and a mother. Behind them is what appears to be a normal and modest home.

“I am a girl of humble origins. The picture to many would not be one of tragedy. A mother, a father, their daughter. A picture of a normal family. One that was complete. A young girl who was outgoing, made so many friends, and could go home knowing she was safe. You would never expect me to go down a road to pain.”

She turns to take a longer look at the painting. Her hand runs alongside the frame.

“And yet…”

The mother in the frame slowly disappears. First, she becomes a shadow, still holding her daughter’s hand, then she fades away.

“It never stayed that way.” Nova’s voice catches. The daughter’s face changes to a frown with a tear beginning to drop from her face. “A family was ripped apart. Soon after, everything changed.”

The background begins to change. The home becomes more worn. The furniture becomes ripped and scratched. The colour from the walls fade. The floor becomes littered with empty bottles. The hand of the father lets go of his daughter’s.

“I was incomplete. I was not happy. I was hurting. A large part of my life was taken from me far too soon. You watch someone who is meant to take care of you, help you discover who you are, and prepare you for the realities of life and you see their life fade before your eyes. The colour drains from their skin and becomes weak. You sit by their bed, praying for a miracle but you know it will never come. Then their eyes close and never open again. It’s a feeling I’ll never forget…”

The girl’s face changes back to a smile, but a single tear remains. She begins to grow up, now going into her teens.

“And I had to hide it. I was not allowed to express how I felt. I even had to hide part of who I was. Those around me had to numb their pain. They wanted to drink to forget. Drink because it is all they have. I felt distant from them. I felt alone, but I still had to put on a show. I had to pretend that everything was alright when nothing was. When I can’t show how I feel then…”

The father disappears. Soon the young lady is out of her home. Onto the streets. Trash is all around her, but the one thing which remains is a collection of empty bottles.

“I-I fell to the same mistakes. I didn’t want to feel anymore. I didn’t even want life to continue.”

Princess Nova moves down the stairs and heads down the hallway.

“It was a long road to get help because I was incomplete. I missed someone who was supposed to be there in my life. I didn’t even believe I was worth saving. I felt I was worthless. That was until I had my first attempt at saving me.”

Stopping in the hallway, Princess Nova closes her eyes then motions her hand towards another painting. The image of it changes in front of eyes, having ripples through it as if it was made of water. A new image begins to form. Lights flash on the frame, showing a bustling fashion show. On the runway appears a young adult Nova, still with the plastered smile on her face. Her hair is a variety of colours, mainly warm colours and she is wearing a unique outfit. The dress has a black top half, with both straps coming around near her neck, wrapping around it like a scarf. The end of the dress has sunset colours with a mix of red, orange, and purple. It goes down to her thighs and poofs out. She wears matching heels and gloves.

“I was taught outer beauty. I ran the runways before I even stepped foot in a wrestling ring. One thing I will say, a lot of those dresses are really pretty!” She giggles, “And it was something that filled the void temporarily. I got parts of my life sorted. People reminded me that maybe I was worth something. A spotlight was on me and it gave me a sense of confidence…”

She stretches her words. Humming, she thinks before clarifying, “In part. Because it was never what I wanted. I didn’t want to become a decoration for someone’s design, someone who only saw me as an object. I wished to create my own work, or at least show off the ones of people who cared about me, and that was what I missed. I needed someone to fill that void.”

Ripples continue in the frame and the runway slowly disappears. Instead, there is a shadow of several people behind her. One or two appears familiar to FWA fans, but otherwise are hard to distinguish.

“Every splash of colour was just a paint job to cover up a scar. I was back to doing what I had done before. I numbed myself to my problems. I thought if I could just keep things, bright, colourful, and fun, that I wouldn’t be sad. But I lied. I lied to myself. Then I tried. I tried to find people to fill the void. Partners who never worked out. Distant family who only dragged me into their problems and refused help, second hand friends who I made no significant impact for in their lives…”

Behind the painting of Nova, the shadowy figures begin to fade away one by one, leaving only Nova, alone.

“Nobody. Nobody filled that void because I needed a true family. I needed someone to fill me with love. I needed someone who could help me discover who I really want to be, what I dream of being. This is not it.”

She looks down at her outfit, showing genuine disgust.

“And look at me. These shoes are grotesque. These jeans…” Nova scratches her legs, “Are so itchy! This shirt feels like it’s made from old rags…” She grabs her shirt before grabbing a strand of her hair, “And don’t get me started on the chemicals in my hair…”

Letting out a frustrated groan, Princess Nova pouts and folds her arms, like a kid throwing a tantrum. "Hard to believe I ever thought this was okay. I needed someone to open my mind. I had someone look into my heart and show me what I truly desired. I was shown my fate..."

A painting behind her has ripple effects and begins to show a small scene. Two people stand in what looks to be a Hollywood dressing room with mirrors, make-up stands, and a divider to change behind. Princess Nova wearing a proper Princess dress. It is long with a high quality purple satin. Long silver gloves are on her hands as the shadowy figure of a woman stands in front of her. In her hands is a tiara and gently she places it on Nova's head. She leans in for a gentle kiss. Princess Nova closes her eyes in the frame before opening them again, a wide grin appearing on her face, showing the top of her teeth.


"Sealed... with... a kiss..."

Going to the end of the hallway, a door has colourful letters on it, reading “Art Room.” Princess Nova reaches for the handle.

“I’m happier now. I can freely express myself how I wish to be. All it was exchange for was giving love to people who love me back and ironically, becoming TORN has made me complete. And I learned so much…”

Stepping through the door, Nova enters her own personal art studio. Along the wall are various paintings she has done, most of which have a mix of her, and imagery relating to her and her “chosen family.” Along with it is a mirror and makeup stand against the far wall. In one corner is a violin and sheet paper for music. In the middle of the room is a sewing machine, various fabrics, and a mannequin, showing the beginnings of a dress. In the far corner is an easel with a painting on it, turned away from Nova.

“About how to express myself and how to enhance my beauty inside and out.”

Turning towards the mirror, some sparkles appear near her, creating a near blinding light. It begins at her feet

“Out went the dirty sneakers…” Taking the place of her old shoes are black heels with purple bows on them, “And instead some beautiful heels to lift my spirits…”

The light moves up, covering her body. “No more jeans and rags for clothes…” The light disappears and replacing it is a princess ball gown. The skirting is a mix of purple and black, flowing freely. Leading up is a black corset and a purple sweetheart neckline, “And instead I have stunning dresses, crafted with great detail to frame myself.”

Her hands become covered in the light as long matching gloves appear on her hands, mostly black with a purple trim near her elbows. “Gloves to protect my pretty hands,” Nova giggles as the light appears near her face. It disappears and she has proper makeup including black lipstick. “Makeup to highlight my features. Out is the fake rainbow…”

Light covers her hair. The rainbow locks disappear as her raven black hair is back, “And instead an alluring black, showing a darker side to beauty. To top it all off…”

Finally, the ball cap disappears and replacing it is Nova’s signature tiara. “A tiara to crown me as Princess Nova…”

The smile on Nova’s face is wide and genuine, showing her teeth. She twirls around before blowing a kiss to herself in the mirror and winking.

“What can I say? I’m a fine work of art! A labour of love. This is how I want to be. I’m the woman of my dreams now. That’s why I have an unbreaking loyalty to those who helped me become my ideal self. And here, they allow me to pour myself into whatever I want to do. I can design the dresses of my dreams! I can craft songs, telling my story, and of course,” She giggles, looking at her easel, Paint lovely scenes. Speaking of, I have art to finish.”

Going over to her painting station, Nova grabs her brush and pallet and continues working on her art. She looks at the camera, giving a sassy wag of her finger, wanting to keep it a secret. As she paints, she continues.

“As my life has changed, there has been one continuous thread, professional wrestling. It was how I escaped the life of modelling. It was a place I felt I could not just test myself, but has always been a place where I can express myself in front of viewing eyes. Take control of my destiny. As I make my way to FWA with my dearest sister, we do not just have a message to spread, but each time I step into a match, it’s just another chance to show the world the wonder of Princess Nova. I’m given a chance on a show meant to celebrate the life of a man taken from us too soon, and with it, it will be…” She speaks latin, Vita Nova. New Life for FWA. Much like my art here…”

Her hand suddenly freezes in place. Her eyes blink and become blank. Her voice becomes cold and monotonous. “The ring acts as my canvas. The ladders will be my brush, and my opponents will be the paint I splatter to create something new…”

Nova blinks and she snaps back to her normal. She continues to paint and giggles.

“It’s been fun! I’ve been doing it for some time, but I’ve always wanted to do a ladder match. It gives me endless possibilities to create and to play, and sometimes the quality of a painting is determined by the paint you have and how you use it, and I love a challenge!”

Going to her pallet of paint, Nova mixes her paints together to create a grey. She brushes off some of the excess paint from her brush and continues.
“And who can I create beauty with? A Young Lioness who has yet to earn her place in the pack? Someone struggling to find an identity and will likely be fed to a larger jungle cat? I understand. I have been there before. I once stood across from a future saviour of mine and an Ultraviolent God and I was broken down only to be rebuilt later. Not everything is black and white. I had to explore all the colours of the rainbow before settling on my true self. If this match doesn’t break you, maybe it will be a fun first step?”

She does a child-like giggle. She washes some of the paint off her brush then pauses to think of her next colour. She settles on mixing her red and blue together to create a violet.

“And, I get to face a man who is on death’s door of his career. Someone who is trapped in an industry that he loves… But doesn’t love him back. Mistakes ache his heart, not raising his own blood with the love and guidance needed. I've had former family live a life of regret and have that feeling eat away at them again and again to lead them to darkness. They got out, but as for him? The grim reaper is knocking at his door. He is one mistake away from being cut down and falling into his own grave.”

Tapping her brush on her water can, Nova hums.

“And of course, I have a mystery third person. A figure from FWA’s past meeting with one of its future guiding hands, and should I worry? Hmm.”

She taps the end of her brush on her chin, careful to avoid paint splashing over her dress.

“No.” Princess Nova says. On her face, a small grin appears. Her voice is calm and soothing. “I’ll be ready for anything. From someone looking to right past wrongs to a former champion looking to reclaim their throne. Because I don’t believe they have been in the ring with someone quite like me. I’ve conquered my past ghosts. I’ve rejected a type of humanity that weighs so many others down. Princess Nova is a girl who can shower herself in diamonds no matter the result. So why worry about something I can’t control when the possibilities are simply astonishing?”

She laughs and winks. Nova puts fresh paint on her brush to add some final details. “But I think you understand even without the wordplay, hehe.”

“Rest assured, I will go to Denver, and I will enjoy every single moment of it. Maybe I’ll stop and smell the roses?”
Glancing up at the ceiling, Princess Nova seems lost in thought, imagining what will happen at Back in Town. Her having to ascend a ladder.

“In fact, I don’t even need the money, I have everything I want here and so much more. But it would be such a waste not to put everything I have into this performance. I can use the money for more art supplies if I have to. This is the first moment to truly express myself in FWA as part of its roster. I need to give the world a glimpse into my TORN beauty. It is the only way to give thanks to those who helped me and that I am willing to die for-”

The TORN Angel’s laugh returns. She is extra giddy and she waves to the camera.

“I hope everyone has fun! I hope each of my opponents can get something too from this. After all, you have this opportunity too-”

Nova’s voice trails off. The brush slips from her hand and falls onto the floor. The tone of Nova’s voice is tense and cutting.

“And it is only right one suffers for their art…”

Turning the canvas around, Princess Nova gives a glimpse of her finished piece of work.

The painting has a dark purple sky and it depicts a snowy mountain peak. On the way to the top, multiple people fail to make the climb. Running down the mountain being chased by a tiger is a girl wearing traditional judo garb. She is running down into a thick fog near the base of the mountain. On the other side of the mountain, a man is falling down, his blonde hair flowing in the wind as he falls. He is wearing traditional wrestling gear with black trunks, boots, and pads. Closer to the top of the mountain, a cross is placed with a shadowy figure nailed to it. On the top of the snow peaks is a black and purple rose.


Nova'sArt.jpg


Princess Nova storms off, the TORN Angel not looking back at her finished work. The camera has a long zoom in on the art as the camera cuts to static.
 
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Jimmy King

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The Gatekeeper

Prologue

A gatekeeper can mean more than one thing. It is defined as someone that is employed to control a gate or controls access to a particular closed-off area. In other aspects of the world, it describes someone who must be defeated for another person to pass through.

The story you’re about to read will relate to the latter. It’s about a man that has stood by for many years by the gate in his profession. For many years he’s allowed countless men and women pass him by, despite his best efforts in defense. Whoever wants to pass is given the opportunity to fight with The Gatekeeper, and if they are so fortunate enough to defeat him, they are granted the right to pass through the gate.

The Gatekeeper stood idly by and watched as those he did battle with walked past him and into the great beyond. He’s never complained, not once. He’s been loyal, almost to a fault. That is until now. Now, The Gatekeeper has grown tired. He’s become impatient. He no longer wishes to see others pass him by, especially those he feels are inferior to him. He has dreams of grandeur that one day he’d like to experience. He knows that if he wants to share those dreams, he must do something about it before it’s too late.

The story will now begin with The Gatekeeper standing at his post, as usual. He is covered in a dark cloak with a hood over his head to conceal his identity. The Gatekeeper stands at the gate and waits for the first individual that walks up.


navy.png


Chapter 1
The Dark Traveller


The Gatekeeper stood at the gate as a line had formed at the gate. The Gatekeeper motioned for the first person to come forward, and the person that approached the gate is a tall African-American man that appeared to be in his mid-30s if The Gatekeeper were to take a guess. The man is bald, and judging by his appearance, it looks like he has seen better days. His body has various patches of dark marks and filth, and there are shredded remnants of a t-shirt covering his torso, a pair of ragged-looking jeans, and one torn sock on one foot and one shoe on another. The Gatekeeper wonders how the man made it all this way in the condition he was in. The man approaches The Gatekeeper, standing at his podium on the right side of the gate.

The Gatekeeper: “Name please.”

The Gatekeeper said in a demanding tone, which drew some ire from the man as he glared at The Gatekeeper.

”The Dark Traveller.”

The man, now identified as The Dark Traveller, says in a low, growling tone. The Gatekeeper thumbs through the book on his podium until he stops on a page. The Gatekeeper scans the page in his book while The Dark Traveller is still glaring at him. The man looks ready to rip off The Gatekeeper’s head and storm on through the gate on his own accord.

The Dark Traveller: “Could we get this going?!”

The Gatekeeper has picked up on the impatience of The Dark Traveller, but he doesn’t look up from his book.

The Dark Traveller: “What is so important that you must waste time by reading?!”

The Gatekeeper closes the book and glances back up at The Dark Traveller. The Gatekeeper can see the rage in this man’s eyes. He can feel his anger radiating off of his body. He can tell that the man has seen some things in his life and that he’s been dealt a bad hand.

The Gatekeeper: “If you must know what I’m reading, well, it’s about you. See, for me to know if you’re ready to walk past this gate and into the great beyond.”

The Dark Traveller: “You don’t need to know anything about me to know that I am ready to walk through this gate. As a matter of fact, why don’t you just let me walk on through before I make you open this gate.”


The man is seething, but at the same time, he is speaking with an air of calmness about him.

The Gatekeeper: “Do you truly think that you’re ready to walk through this gate? Do you think you have what it takes to tackle what lies ahead in the great beyond?”

The Dark Traveller: “I do, and if you keep on asking these questions, I can use you as an example as to why I’m ready for whatever it is that lies ahead out there.”

The Gatekeeper: “Well, you certainly are eager, and you’ve got some fight in you by the sounds of it. You’re ready to unleash all of that rage that’s burning inside of you, but let me tell you that right now, it’s going to take a lot more than that to survive out there. Personally, I don’t think you can handle it.”


This angers the man, and he gets closer to the podium, but The Gatekeeper doesn’t even flinch.

The Dark Traveller: “You’re just some old fool then! You don’t know a damn thing! Where I’ve been or what I’ve had to go through to get to this point in my life!”

The Gatekeeper: “I’m going to stop you right there, and you tell you right now that none of that matters. I don’t care if you walked through hell and fought the devil himself, and judging by your appearance, it looks like you’ve done just that. The point I’m trying to make is that none of that matters.”

“Furthermore, I don’t think you’re ready. It’s not your time just yet. Maybe give yourself another year or two and then come back here, and we’ll see if you’re ready by then, but right now, it’s just not your time.”


The man seems irked by this response. This was not the answer he was looking for.

The Dark Traveller: “What do you mean that I’m not ready?! What kind of nonsense is that?! Do you know what I’ve gone through?!”

The Gatekeeper: “Again, I will reiterate, I don’t care what you’ve gone through. Now is not your time. You’re not ready yet. You’re still too fresh. Yeah, you’ve fought elsewhere and gone through hell and back, but that doesn’t mean a thing now. You still need more seasoning. Give it at least another year or two if you can endure in this environment long enough until then, but for now, you’re not ready to go beyond this gate.”

The Dark Traveller: “You don’t know what you’re talking about!”

The Gatekeeper: “If I didn’t know what I was talking about, I wouldn’t be standing here right now talking to you. I know what it takes to make it out there. I’ve been in your shoes, or your case, shoe. I don’t know what else to say, but it’s just not your time.”


The man storms off in a huff, and The Gatekeeper shakes his head in disappointment before motioning for the next one in line to come up.


navy.png



Chapter 2
Der Basterd


The following person to step forward is a tall caucasian man with bleach blonde hair, dressed in casual wear but still presentable enough. He seems unhinged just by his body movement, but there’s also an air of arrogance.

The Gatekeeper: “Name, please.”

Der Basterd.”

The Gatekeeper: “Oh, right, your reputation precedes you.”


Der Basterd flashes a smile, showing off his pearly whites with a shit-eating grin. The Gatekeeper felt a slight urge to punch this man in the face but showed restraint.

Der Basterd: “Look, why don’t we just move this along, and you let me through right now?”

The Gatekeeper: “Your reputation precedes you, but not in a good way. Much like the last guy, I don’t think you have what it takes to make it out there. I know that this isn’t your first time up here, either. You’ve tried numerous times to go beyond this gate, and while you’ve gotten lucky and broken through without earning the right, you still proved that you couldn’t make it out there.”


Der Basterd is stunned by this revelation, and he looks like one of those ladies at the grocery store that wants to speak to the manager.

Der Basterd: “What are you talking about?! There must be some kind of mistake!”

The Gatekeeper: “I’m afraid that there is no mistake. While you’ve shown you have the right tools and whatnot, you’ve also shown that you crumble under pressure. When things get too hot, you melt. You buckle at the knees when you’re presented with a major obstacle. In other words, you’re a choke artist.”

Der Basterd: “You can’t talk to me like that! Do you know who I am?!”

The Gatekeeper: “Yeah, I know who you are. You’re the guy that stood on the biggest stage with all the lights shining on him, and you failed. No matter how hard you try, you can’t break through that glass ceiling.”

“I cannot talk because no matter how hard I try, I can’t seem to break it either. The difference between you and me is that I haven’t resorted to pitching a fit or laying the blame on others. You blame everyone else for your shortcomings, but the one person you should blame is yourself. You’re your own worst enemy. I would suggest that you come back and try again in another year, but you still won’t break through. You’re destined to always be the choke artist. The guy that could’ve been something but constantly got in his own way.”


Der Basterd is stewing in anger because he knows that deep down, The Gatekeeper is right about him, but he’s too much of a jackass to admit it. The Gatekeeper motions for the next in line as Der Basterd silently walks to the back of the line.

navy.png


Chapter 3
The Dark Huntress


Next up is a young woman adorned with a colorful mask and a matching outfit to go with it. She seems hesitant as she approaches the podium, but The Gatekeeper continues to motion for her to move forward.

The Gatekeeper: “Next.”

The Dark Huntress

The Gatekeeper: “More fresh meat then, I see.”

The Dark Huntress: “What do you mean, fresh meat?”


The Huntress seems genuinely confused and needs clarification on what The Gatekeeper is referencing.

The Gatekeeper: “You’re not the first newcomer I’ve seen today. You’re unlike him, though. He seemed more confident and not as nervous as you.”

The Dark Huntress: “What do you mean? I’m confident! What gives you the idea that I’m not?”

The Gatekeeper: “Well, for instance, the sudden base in your voice isn’t compelling. Are you sure that you’re capable of handling yourself out there?”

The Dark Huntress: “Of course I’m sure; why wouldn’t I be ready?”

The Gatekeeper: “You don’t sound like you even believe that about yourself. You sound like you’re trying to convince yourself that you’re ready, but in reality, you don’t believe you are, and if I were you, I’d trust that gut instinct you have right now.”


The Dark Huntress sighs and hangs her head low.

The Dark Huntress: “You’re probably right. I’m surprised that I’ve made it this far myself. It’s been a tough road, but I’ve somehow made it.”

The Gatekeeper: “Here’s some advice: come back in another year or two. I know I said it to those other guys, but the difference between them and you is that I truly think you have what it takes to make it out there. You just need more time to develop more confidence in yourself. Once you feel like you’ve gained that confidence, come back and try again.”

“Believe me; I’ve been there. I know what it’s like having that sense of self-doubt creeping up on you all the time. Eventually, you get over it. You get past it. You develop that confidence and sense of self-worth. It just takes time.”


The Huntress curtly nods in agreement and reluctantly returns to the end of the line.

navy.png


Chapter 4
The Wildcard


The next day The Gatekeeper was summoned to meet with the elders for a review on his work thus far.

Two elders were present on this day: The Astonishing and The Last Star in the Sky.

There had been many elders before them, but The Astonishing and The Last Star have been around longer than most. They’re usually joined by The Golden One or The Truth, but The Golden One has a score to settle with some disco dancer, and The Truth has been exiled again.

The Astonishing: “Gatekeeper, step forward.”

The Gatekeeper steps forward as he is told and looks up at the elders.

The Astonishing: “Gatekeeper, you’ve been called here today because your services as The Gatekeeper are no longer needed.”

The Gatekeeper looks shocked by this, and he’s about to speak, but he’s cut off, this time by The Last Star.

The Last Star: “Your services are no longer needed because we’ve decided that you’ve earned the right to go beyond the gates. You’ve proven you have what it takes to persevere and make it out there.”

The Gatekeeper is stunned and can’t believe what he’s hearing.

The Gatekeeper: “What if I fail? What if I let you down?”

The Astonishing: “Then you will return to your duties as Gatekeeper, but until then, you will no longer resume that role.”

The Gatekeeper: “Well, I’d have to be an idiot to decline, so I’ll do it. Thank you elders; I promise that I won’t fail you.”


No longer The Gatekeeper, the man takes a bow toward the elders and exits the room. He makes his way toward the gate already open for him, and he walks through.

”It’s my time; it’s The Wildcard’s time.”
 

AON

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The place? Here. The time? The past. The present AND the future?

I've lost you already, haven't I?

Regardless we're in some kind of big public community centre in downtown Dever, Colorado. You know the type, I mean, the cream walls, the neutral colours. The notice board is full of various ads. Hey, look, someone is giving away free guitar lessons, you know I always wanted to learn, but it's not through a love of music but just to say they know how to play, because that's a cool skill to have, but anytime I try it really hurts my fingers. Should I wear gloves if I play the guitar? That's not very punk rock, is it? But all that isn't really important; what IS relevant, however, is that a very official-looking gentleman standing outside a set of doors strolling back and forward, pacing nervously, wringing his hands, clearly waiting for someone and judging by the way he's glancing at his watch from time to time, said person is super duper late after a few beats of this, we hear the sounds of the front door being flung open and frantic shattered footsteps getting closer and closer until our hero enters the scene our stupid, uncoordinated hero, with flaming red hair and an obsession with an outdated form of music. Miss Lizzie Rose looked somewhat dishevelled but happy to be there.

"Where the hell have you been?! They've been waiting for you for half an hour!"

"A Seagull"

"`....What?"

"I found a wounded seagull, and I was taking it to the vet."

"....."

"....."

"....You don't want to ask any other questions about what happened?"

"You know, I watch FWA programming, and I notice that whenever someone asks you to elaborate on the weird things you say, you tend to sound more and more odd and pathetic, so I'm just not going t-"

"I was driving down the highway, and I saw on the side of the road a seagull with a bent wing, and I couldn't stop thinking about it, so I turned around and put the Seagull in my backseat, but I guess it wasn't as hurt as I thought it was, so while I was googling vets in Colorado, it woke up and was NOT a happy bunny...or Seagull and kind of freaked out and flew around the car and started pecking me, so I was dealing with THAT, and then I crashed the car. Don't worry though, the Seagull was fine, so I got out of my car and had to hitchhike WITH the Seagull who started pecking me again an-"

"Lizzie?"

"Yeah?"

"Please, for the love of God, shut up.

"Ok...."

"Thank you so much for doing this, by the way."

"Oh yeah, no problem! This is exciting! I've never been a motivational speaker before, but I guess you didn't have a lot of choices, with half the roster being a little...y'know...."

Lizzie suddenly put her forefinger against her temple and spun it around and around, in the universal sign of "loopy."

"I mean, ok. I'm not saying...I'm...y'know, Little miss perfect mental health over here, I got a lot of self-doubts an- I'm doing it again, aren't I?"

"Yeah...."

"Oh."

Awkward pause.

"So, I should probably talk to those youths, right?"

"Youths?"

"Yeah, you know...Troubled youths, in a spot of bother in this crazy world, looking for an icon. A hero. Someone to look up to and....well, I'm not saying it should be me, but-"

"Imma stop you right there....I think there's been some misunderstanding. You're not talking to troubled youths."

"I'm not?"

"This is a talk for prison inmates."

"....oh"

"Look, don't worry about it; whatever you had planned, don't change a thing. There's no difference to the crowd whatsoever. Just that they're there against their will and are literally chained to the floor..."

"....That's comforting. I mean...I've been around people like that all my life, so I have no issues with that, like petty theft or..."

"Oh no, hard-core maximum security prisoners. But don't worry, the murderers are in the back and attempted murderers at the front so that they might try, but you'll be fine."

"Again, that's very comforting; thank you for saying so."

"Ok, I'll just make sure the crowd is ready; they're a captive audience, after all...literally."

"Ok...."

The organizer smiles in such a way that's meant to be somewhat comforting, but it somehow doesn't extend to her eyes as she disappears behind the door. Lizzie leans against the door; her whole body sags just a little bit as she takes a deep breath and closes her eyes, suddenly looking very tired indeed. Her calendar was chockfull of these events....charities...talks...meet and greets...autograph signing....when it comes to a PPV week, most wrestlers take a backseat to their public relations duties. But most wrestlers aren't Lizzie Rose. One of the more "Approachable" members of the roster, she's often pegged to do this kind of stuff..and with her mind on Bryan Baxter and her inability to say no, she's emotionally drained.

Sometimes it was tough to be so nice all the time....

ZUMMMM...

ZUMMMMMMM....

KABLOOIE.....


Lizzie looked up abruptly as the air around her suddenly became hot, dense and humming with electricity, and bright light filled the room, dazzling and blinding Lizzie, and a loud explosion echoed around the room. Eventually, Lizzie is able to open her brown eyes, and when they adjust to the light, she quickly becomes aware of not being alone.

nothing-i-could-do-nadia-vulvokov.gif


"AY, YO, WHAT'S GOING ON, BANANA FACE!"

"Who are you?"

"Isn't it freaking obvious? I'm Fucking Lizzie Rose over here!"

"But I'm Lizzie Rose...I think"

"You are! And so I'm I! I'm you from the future!"

"Oh, hi, me from the future!"

"hey."

"Wait, no. That's impossible!"

"Ah, look at you with your grasp on the inner workings of cross-dimensional time travel over here."


"Lizzie Rose" (The older one) paused momentarily to take out a cigarette and absent-mindedly lit it.

"Let me break it down for ya one time. You remember that one time a few years back, you got that spam email telling you, you won a free time machine?"

"Right, all they wanted was my credit card details, my social security number and my mother's maiden name, and they sent me a cardboard box with feral cats in it..."

"Bingo! but see, I come from a universe where they sent us a REAL time machine, and I've been using that ever since."

"...Universe?"

"Oh, right. I'm from another reality. Did I mention that? I feel like I mentioned that because that's kind of important.

"I don't think so."

"Oh. Right. Well. I'm also from another dimension."

" I mean. I don't know if you're a really bad liar or I'm just slowly becoming more cynical, but even I have a hard time believing all this.

"How can I prove it?"

"Tell me something only I would know!

"The music of the 90s is vastly underrated."

"OH, MY GOD! YOU'RE TIME-TRAVELING ME FROM ANOTHER DIMENSION! EVERYTHING I ONCE KNEW IS A LIE"


"...."

"...."

"So how's life in the future slash alternate dimension?

"Super bitching, actually. I just won my 50th world title and just brought a house for my turtle. A full mansion. Yurtle the turtle has expensive tastes.

"Really? We're still wrestling in the future?! And winning titles?"


"Oh yeah, this is just one of 15 I have right now."

"We have 15 titles at the same time?!"

"Yeah, kind of an off year. Haven't really been able to do much wrestling, what with all the movies and me overseeing the development of Lizney World."

"Isn't that a little close to Disney world?"

"Oh, don't worry, our legal team is on it; we're going to sue the hell out of those buttholes."

"Gosh, how did we get so successful?!

That's actually what I wanted to talk to you about. I come from an alternate universe to deliver an important message on how to defeat Bryan Baxter at Back in Town.

"Sweet! That's great. Do you have any tactics to discuss or-WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA"


Before Lizzie could finish the statement, the alternate dimension version of herself grabbed her by the collar and BOOOM. In another bright light Lizzie Rose and her double suddenly found themselves standing in the mists of a stadium full of people surrounding a wrestling ring, Lizzie stumbled in place looking like she was trying not to vomit as the older Lizzie takes in the action in the ring.

"Ah, memories....!

"Where are we right now?"


This is the point where our universes break off; back in town in 2023. Lizzie Rose vs Big Bryan Baxter for the North American championship."

Sure enough, Lizzie eventually notices that it's her in that ring, facing off against Bryan Baxter in a match that hasn't even happened yet.

"I'm confused if I'm here. And you're here, and that's also you, but from the past, and that's not me but also me...

"Yeah, no, I wouldn't think about it too much; you'll go cross-eyed, kid. Trust me; you don't want to think too deeply about this cross-dimensional travel stuff, like the fact you just died."


"WHAT?!"

"Oh yeah, horribly. Painfully. See, the way it works is you're instantly vaporized, and your molecules are scattered through time and space and then recollect themselves here. So you're basically a perfect clone of yourself, and I do mean the original you. The one that died painfully."

"Oh... "Gotta be honest, I thought this would be more inspiring, and instead, this is just a massive existential crisis.

"As I said, it's best not to think about it. Oh, look- this is the part you should pay attention to.

"What?"

"The best decision you'll ever make"


Lizzie turns her attention to the action in the ring where both Baxter and Lizzie were in the middle of some slug feast, with the ref down on the canvas, which of course, Bryan Baxter wins because....of course, and with one final stiff punch Baxter gets the advantage but Lizzie Rose being Lizzie Rose simply is too stubborn to go down and instead stumbles in the corner where she takes a breather. Seeing his moment, Bryan Baxter gestures for his manager to toss him those darn brass knuckles, which he does with aplomb; he slides them into the middle of the mat and when Baxter leans down to pick it up...

ONLY FOR LIZZIE TO RUSH OUT OF THE CORNER AND KICKS HIM RIGHT BETWEEN THE LEGS.

Everything freezes in shock, except for Lizzie who picks up the knucks and NAILS in the face with them! Lizzie happily discarded as she pinned Baxter as the ref suddenly came back into consciousness and made the three count.

"BOOM. HAHA. RIGHT BETWEEN THE EYES. HA! NEVER GET TIRED OF LOOKING AT THAT"

"What the hell did...I....you...us...do?!"


"Oh, nothing much, just became the North American champion. Congrats."

"But...that's cheating...we didn't earn it."

"Kid, I'm going to tell you the most important thing you'll ever hear. See that guy? that big fuck staring up at the lights and dancing away with the fairies. That man is over six feet tall and nearly three hundred pounds. If you cloned yourself -Which you do, by the way- the both of you wouldn't be big as this guy. He is stronger than you. Meaner than you. More experienced than you. His damn fist is bigger than your head. On paper, this guy should blow you out of the goddamn water....and you know what's crazy? He still needed a guy to beat you. He STILL needed a pair of brass knuckles to knock you out...Because, at the end of the day, that's who he is. A small man with a big body, a tiny insecure little bitch who's scared of a little girl that he knows is special. Fuck. Him. Fuck him for screwing you out of a belt we spent our whole damn lives grinding for. Fuck him for making sure we couldn't win the grand prix. Fuck him and everyone like him.

"Lizzie, do you know how many universes there are?

"...Four?"

"Billions, upon billions. I've seen most of them, and do you know in how many you beat this guy by playing by the rules?


Lizzie doesn't say a word, she had a horrible feeling she knew where this was going.

"None. You play it fair; he beats you, every single time. Sometimes, it's clear; sometimes, he needs his manager to put his foot on the rope again. Sometimes he uses those damn brass knuckles. Sometimes you get squashed. Sometimes it's just like the first match where you got so damn close...but the outcome is always the same. You lose and you never see that belt again."

"But what about doing things for the people in our lives, for Brooklyn-"

"FUCK. BROOKLYN" You have to understand; you NEED to understand, Lizzie. You're special. You're BETTER than Bryan Baxter, and the biggest weakness you have right now? You don't know it. You're too hung up on giving and giving and giving back, never taking, and all you got from that? Is pain and heartache and being constantly mocked. You can't be a lamb in a jungle of lions Lizzie, be loyal to yourself. "You know what happened to me when I made that choice? I ended up keeping that belt for two years; I ended up winning the FWA World Championship FIVE times. I'm the greatest female wrestler of all time...and so can you be...as long as you make a choice.


"You wanna be big or small?
 
Last edited:

WelshyBOI

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Bellatrix Bordeaux
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Bellatrix Bordeaux is…
Wp9enT3gX2_V6eFeIJMBct_j9HcDHQTAN01xEvCEbaTxrBOPb8uyUQmyloZ7XGfRwiQWh-Z5Up1sob3ngiVMRf8eik0_gQjZfIU9TyUKd2if3zmsN8MLZDLoFZTtZDq50u3nhWBI4KQR0tkAS2_bmM8
30 January 2023
Baton Rouge, Louisiana



Pharrell Williams - Happy (Official Music Video)


“Clap along, if you feel like happiness is the truth. Because I’m HAPPYYY!”

Ahem…sorry.

As this incredibly catchy song plays, entering her head through a pair of earphones, Bellatrix Bordeaux can be seen lying belly down on her bed, her feet swaying in the rhythm of the song as she colours in a picture with a crayon. She’s wearing a baggy red sleeveless shirt and light blue skinny jeans, along with the copious amounts of black eyeshadow surrounding her dreamy eyes, also, she’s sporting a little smirk, as though she’s remembering some happy times.

Her bedroom looks to be a little smaller than a box room, with her single-wide bed alone spanning the entirety of the length of the back wall. A large mirror takes up the rest of the same wall as the door, with a little desk situated in front of the mirror that contains all her makeup and other general clutter. She has a small bedside cabinet with a dimly lit desk lamp, with the top of the cabinet buried under a layer of soda cans and candy wrappers, and a small chest of 3 drawers on the opposite end of the room to the cabinet. The chest of draws, which houses a few framed pictures of a happy-looking family with two kids, a boy and a girl, and a couple that looks to be in their early 30s, along with another picture of her brother and her as they make their way down what looks to be an entrance ramp at a wrestling show, with Bret looking confident and Trixie a bag of nerves. Other notable items in the room include a 19” TV situated on the wall above the foot of the bed, a ceiling fan above the middle of the room, and a good few items of clothing scattered indiscriminately across the carpeted floor.

Pinned up all across each of the walls, we see an array of badly drawn pictures of people and scenes. Most notably, a section of the wall has a banner that reads “WALL OF FRIENDSHIP” and directly below it, four A4 pieces of paper that each contain a different name...“CALI”, “VAMPYRA”, “LIZZY”, and “JOE”, along with a portrait of each person that looks as though they were drawn by a six-year-old. As for the piece of art that the dotty young woman is currently producing, the names of the people she’s doodling about have already been coloured in, and they read “COWBOY”, “BUS DRIVER” and “MOUSTACHE MAN”. Underneath each name, the outlines of three human-ish shaped bodies have been sketched holding each other’s hands.

As the blue crayon in Trixie’s hand becomes ever duller as she doodles, a knocking sound can be heard coming from behind her bedroom door, followed a moment later by a familiar voice.

“Trix, it’s Bret, need to have a chat with you….” Bret says, with neither his voice nor the knocking being able to penetrate through…

“Well here comes bad news, talking this and that…!”

And, given that Trixie has also begun to mumble along in her cute, if somewhat terrible, voice, “Well, gimmie all you got and don’t hold back.” there’s absolutely no doubt that she hasn’t heard so much as a peep.

“Trixie…! I know who your next opponent is….” Bret says, again giving the door a few more knocks…

…she hears none of it.

“Jesus, it’s like tryna speak to the dead…” Bret says in a fed-up voice, before hammer-fisting Trixie’s door repeatedly with thunderous results, before calling loudly, “Trix! Wake the fuck up and answer the door!”

“No offence to you, don’t waste your time…here’s why!”

“Because I’m happy…!” Trixie sings, nodding her head to the beat. As she sings along to the chorus, she turns her head to look at her bedside cabinet, only to notice that all of the soda cans have been drained. As a result, she drops the crayon and rolls off of her bed and onto her feet, before making her extremely short, three-foot-step journey to her bedroom door, with her earphones still in and still blasting out…

“Clap along, if you know what happiness is to you…!”

Upon making it to her door after what looked to be the exact opposite of a long and arduous journey, Trixie grips the doorknob and turns, singing, “Because I’m happy…!” before opening the door and…

“AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!”

Trixie, clearly not expecting someone to be standing mere millimetres in front of her as she swung her bedroom door open, jumped so high that she nearly whacked her head on the top of the doorframe and landed in an extremely cartoonish-looking karate stance, ready to trade blows with her newfound attacker…

…before realising.

“BRET?!” Trixie shouts, her face a mix of shock, relief and anger as she slowly and reluctantly exits her fighting pose.

Bret, staring at his startled sister with a smirk on his face, responds, “....”

“Wait, what?” Trixie says, confused at the fact that Bret’s mouth is moving but no words are coming out of it.

“....” Bret says, all the while pointing at his right ear.

“Wait…you have an earache?” Trixie asks, a look of concern forming on her face, before continuing, “Is it bad?”

Bret facepalms, shaking his head in his hands as he chuckles, before walking over to his dotty little sister and pulling her earbuds out and then shouting as loud as he can, “I KNOW WHO YOU’RE FIGHTING AT THE PAY PER VIEW!”

Meanwhile, Trixie jumps, startled at the sheer volume of her brother’s voice, before covering her ears to stop them from exploding. After her brother has finished bombarding her with noise, Trixie responds, “Jeepers! There’s no need to shout!”

“There fucking is in this apartment….” Bret says under his breath, before continuing in his usual tone and pitch as he looks around at the mess in Trixie’s room, “Would it kill you to clean your room once a year? Jesus….”

Trixie lowers her head slightly in embarrassment at the mess, all the while Bret walks to the centre of the room, before noticing Trixie’s “WALL OF FRIENDSHIP” and lets out a chuckle. “Glad to see you’re making new friends…say, did you get in trouble with the FWA for nearly burning down a stadium with 70,000 people inside it?”

Hearing the incident being worded like that causes Trixie’s face to cringe into an expression that reads “oops”, all the while also containing a cheeky little smile as she shakes her head in answer to Bret’s question.

“Lucky you…” Bret says with a smile.

“I mean, we did put it out…” Trixie says, “...eventually…”

Bret chuckles as he walks over to Trixie’s bed and sits down without any invitation, before responding, “You acted quickly, to be fair…still, you got some work to do if you wanna be a firewoman when you grow up.” he says, with a playful smirk. As he continues to glance across his sister’s room, he glances down and notices Trixie’s next addition to the “WALL OF FRIENDSHIP”, and picks it up, examining the names. “Uh…Trix?”

“Yeah?” Trixie asks in response.

“Did you bother to at least learn your teammate’s names before your match last week?” Bret asks, a bewildered look etched on his face.

“U-um…” Trixie stutters, nervously, before continuing, “Y-yeeeeaaah…?”

“Really?” Bret says as looks at his sister with a quizzical face. “Okay…Mr “Cowboy” man…what’s his name, huh?”

“Uuh…” Trixie says as we watch the wheels turn inside her head. “T-...”

Bret’s eyebrows raise as Trixie starts on the right track, giving him hope that she may have actually done her research.

“T-...” Trixie utters again as if the name is on the tip of her tongue. After another brief pause, Trixie’s face lights up as she bounces on the spot excitedly, before exclaiming with confidence and joy…

“TIMMY!”

Bret’s head slumps in disappointment, before sighing deeply. “Trix, c’mon…you gotta do your homework….”

“B-but, I got his name right…?” Trixie says, confused.

“His name’s not “Timmy”, Trix…his name’s Tommy Bedlam.” Bret says in an annoyed tone, “He’s a multiple-time FWA 24/7 Champ, former Gauntlet Champion, he owns his own wrestling promotion and from what I’ve seen, he’s actually a decent enough dude…all stuff you should be telling me about considering he is, according to this piece of paper, one of your besties!”

“S-sorry…” Trixie says, her head dipping slightly, ashamed that she got her friend’s name wrong.

“Look, I’m glad you’re making friends and all, it’s just…” Bret pauses momentarily, trying to choose his words carefully. “Trix…I just want you to be alright, ya know?”

“But, I AM alright…” Trixie responds, trying to reassure her brother all the while looking a little confused.

“Yeah, I know you’re alright NOW, but…” He pauses once again, trying to think of a way to get his point across so that his easily confused sister understands. “Alright look, what I’m trying to say is that…if you keep showing up to fights while not having a fucking clue who you’re in there with, sooner or later, you’re going to come up against something you wasn’t prepared for, and you’re gonna get seriously fucking hurt…ya’ get me?”

“B-but…I won my last fight when I didn’t know who I was fighting, a-and…” Trixie says, using every bit of brainpower she has to come up with a solid defence. “...the time before that, when you told me about Shawn Summers’ and that he was a big meanie, I-...I lost.” Her face turns a mix of shame and anger as she remembers her defeat at the hands of “Der Basterd”.

“Yes, I know, but…” Bret sighs, before a small smirk forms on his face, looking simultaneously proud and annoyed that his sister has actually made a logical, if somewhat misguided, rebuke. “Look, it wasn’t a lack of preparation that cost you against Summers, Trix…it was experience…and the gap in experience between you and pretty much the rest of the FWA roster is, to put it bluntly, fucking enormous. Now, that’s a hill you’re gonna have to climb every time you step into the ring, but you can make the climb up that hill a damn side easier if you prepare properly and do your research…understand?”

Trixie, with her thinking face on as she tries to follow Bret’s train of thought, responds in an unsure tone. “Soooooo, if I wanna win…I’ve…gotta…go…hiking?” as she continues, Bret’s head slumps over in defeat. “...and, to make the hiking easier…I need to…do my…homework?”

Raising his head slightly, a lightbulb looking like it’s been switched on behind his eyes, Bret suddenly smiles excitedly. “YES!” He exclaims, the sheer volume of his voice causing the easily startled Trixie to jump slightly. “Okay…okay…” he says, trying to keep the ball rolling in his sister’s struggling brain. “Okay…so, we’ll do the hiking later, but first, you need to do your homework, alright?”

“O-okay.” Trixie says, before being gestured to sit down by her brother, an instruction that she follows to the letter as she plonks herself cross-legged on the floor and looks up, looking ready for class.

“Right, now…” Bret pauses for a moment as he gathers his thoughts, “for your next fight, you’re gonna be going one-on-one with Reagan Cole…you remember Reagan Cole? From you’re last fight?”

“Uhh…” Trixie says, racking her brain to try and think of the right answer, “...is that the Moustache Man?” she answers, a look of concern on her face as she thinks about having to fight one of her new friends.

“No, it isn’t the “Moustache Man”, Trix…” Bret says disappointedly. “Nor anyone else on you you’re team, for that matter…no, you remember that guy that kept hitting you off of the ring? Kinda looks like Robin from the old Batman movies…but older. Like, way older…you know who I mean?”

After a brief moment, during which Trixie’s thinking face returns to full force as she attempts to remember the man her brother has described, Trixie’s face suddenly lights up in recognition. “Ooo, ooo! Is it the guy I kneed in the face and then everyone was cheering for me?!” She asks with a smile as she remembers the feeling she felt as thousands of people cheered her on.

“Haha, yeah…him,” Bret says, he too seemingly enjoying the memory of his sister standing tall amongst a sea of cheering fans. “And this time, when you knock his ass out, there’ll be no one to jump in and save him…hopefully…” he says, the happy memory fading as fast as the moment itself.

“Yeah!” Trixie interjects, excitedly, “This is gonna be a “cakewalk”, right Bret!?”

Bret stares at his sister, who’s brimming with confidence as she remembers how she knocked “The British Apprentice” damn near unconscious at “Fight Night: The Final Four”, with a concerned look in his eyes. “A “cakewalk”...no, Trix, it won’t be “a cakewalk”.”

“Why not?” Trixie responds, confused as to why her brother isn’t as confident of her victory as she is.

“Because…” Bret says, before continuing after a brief pause to think, “Look, truth be told, I’ve been a fan of Reagan since I was a kid. He’s one of the people I’ve tried to model my career after. He’s wrestled pretty much everywhere against some of the best EVER and he’s always given as good as he’s got. He rarely backs down from anyone. He’s tough as fuck. He’s an exceptional wrestler. Extremely experienced. Honourable…hell, a couple of months ago, I would’ve been excited to see you go up against him, just for the opportunity you’d have to share the ring with someone of that calibre and learn from it…but this isn’t a few months ago, Trix.”

With a concerned glint in his eyes and expression, Bret continues, “Look, Trix…Reagan Cole’s aligned himself with someone. He’s like…you remember in Prison Break, where “T-Bag” walks around and people follow him around while holding his pockets?”

Trixie, her thinking face back in full effect, responds, “Uhh…n-...no?”

“Well, basically, in Prison Break, if you have someone clinging on to your trouser pockets, then it means that umm…how to put this nicely…” Bret pauses, trying to come up with a PG way to explain this analogy. “...it’s like…well…” after another brief moment, Bret shakes the thought out of his head and continues, “Ah, fuck it…basically, there’s this guy named Jeffry Mason, right?-”

“In the show, you mean?” Trixie asks, doing her best to follow her brother’s muddled train of thought.

“What? Oh, no, Jeffry Mason’s a real person…although, he could do with a few decades behind bars…” Bret says matter-of-factly, before continuing with his thought. “Basically, Reagan has found himself in, or in this case, holding onto the pocket of a man named Jeffry Mason…and I can’t stress this enough, Trix…Jeffry Mason is the closest thing to pure evil that I’ve ever seen in the wrestling business. He’s fucking sick in the head, and for some reason, and I shudder to think of what that reason is…Jeffry Mason has taken an interest in you.”

“Maybe he just wants to be friends…?” Trixie counter’s with an unbridled innocence, before continuing, “Like, in school, everyone always used to call me “weird”, “creepy”, “psycho”, “rat-face” and stuff, but they were just big meanies…” she says, her head sinking slightly as she remembers her school days. “Maybe Jeffry Mason is like me and people are just being mean to him.”

Bret chuckles nervously at the thought of Trixie making friends with Jeffry Mason of all people. “Look, Trix…yes, there are a lot of nasty people in the world who will bully people they think are not “normal”, so to speak…and hell, maybe as a kid, Jeffry Mason was bullied, I don’t know…maybe that explains why he’s such a sadistic bastard…” he says, a worried glint in his eyes, “But, there’s one thing I do know…if Jeffry fucking Mason wants to be your friend…turn the other way, and run for your fucking life, you understand me?”

“But, maybe-” Trixie attempts to counter but is immediately interrupted by her dead serious brother. “NO!” Bret yells, startling his younger sister. “I don’t want to fucking hear it, Trix…I’m not signed to FWA and I can’t protect you while you’re in that ring. This fucking wack job has you in his sights and he’s using Reagan Cole to test you and I don’t know what his end goal is, and it terrifies me to think of the possibilities. So, I’m not asking you…I’m TELLING you…steer clear of Jeffry Mason. Because if he ends up getting to you like he got to Reagan Cole, then I’m gonna have to be the one to save you. And, since I’m not signed to the FWA, what I end up doing to Reagan and Jeffry if they come after you will likely be followed by a lengthy prison sentence. Now, do you understand what I’m telling you?”

Trixie, looking increasingly terrified as her brother explains the severity of her situation, simply nods in agreement.

Bret sighs, thankful that his sister has seemingly understood his warning. “Right, good…” taking an extra moment to compose himself, he continues. “Now, that’s the theory portion of your homework done…come on, then, get your ass up and fetch you’re fighting gear.”

“Wait, what?” Trixie asks, confusedly.

“Well, now that you know who you’re up against, it’s time to figure out how to beat him, and for that, we’re taking a trip to the gym…and then after that, we’re going hill climbing!” Bret answers in an upbeat manner, trying to pump his sister up. “C’mon then, no time to waste…Reagan Cole’s got two decades of wrestling experience and you’ve got four matches worth of experience, so you’re gonna need all the training time you can get if you wanna close that gap even a tiny bit.”

As Bret speaks, Trixie jumps up to her feet and fumbles around, trying to find her ring gear as the scene fades.




THE END
 

SupineSnake

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Gerald sat back in the uncomfortable seat in the airport terminal, doing his best to approximate some semblance of homeliness and cosiness. It was no use. The environment was too stale, and he couldn't shake the thought that every single airport terminal in the world was essentially identical. In tone if not precisely in specifics. He loved to travel but he didn't care for airports. It was the lack of uniqueness that he disliked - or maybe mistrusted - the most. The world was a vibrant, vivid place, and he always felt as though these portals to new and exciting parts of it should reflect that.

Still, it could be a lot worse…

Dreamer stumbled towards him, ghost-like in every sense imaginable. She was somehow paler than usual, if that was even possible. She had spent the last forty minutes in the bathroom, and Gerald didn't dare ask what she'd been doing. He just watched her approach, failing or refusing to register him, except for to choose the seat at his side to occupy.

"You good?" he asked her. She said nothing. Gerald didn't have to be an expert in body language to surmise that she was pretty far from good.

For as long as he'd known her, he'd always considered Michelle to be a strong person. Certainly flawed in many ways, and plagued by fears and doubts, but strong in the face of them regardless. Seeing first hand the inexplicable internal struggle that was Michelle von Horrowitz travelling by aeroplane, though, had at least momentarily rocked that steadfast image. Right now, his partner was fragile. Weak. Human.

"Where are we?" she asked, whilst looking around for signs that would answer her own question. She found none.

"Atlanta," he answered. "Only one more short hop."

"We should drive," Michelle said, quickly and decisively. "It's not that far to Raleigh."

"We already have our tickets," Gerald replied. He was doing his best to sound soothing but, Michelle thought, was coming up well short. "I'll make it up to you when we get there. We can get the bus to Denver."

"I want to go for drinks," Michelle declared. Gerald sighed. Drinks with Dreamer rarely ended well for either of them, and usually not for their team spirit either.

"I've booked out a gym," Gerald said. "We're going to spar. Prepare for our match."

"Then afterwards," Michelle insisted. She turned to face Gerald, and he observed a quiet but hot fire in the depths of her green eyes. "Gerald, we are going for drinks. That's the price."

Defeated, Gerald nodded.

"It's a date," he said, glumly.

*****

GERALD GRAYSON and MICHELLE von HORROWITZ
are
[CTHULHU’S NEPHEWS]
in
WORK AND PLAY

“You sure this gym is good?” Michelle said as they came to a halt outside the place, looking at Gerald with a concerned expression. “You sure it’s even open?”

“Michelle, I personally trained here during my early days - and look at me now,” Gerald said, standing with hands on hips as if he were a superhero. Michelle looked at Gerald from head to toe, not impressed by what she saw. She shook her head and reached for the handle.

“Let’s get this over with,” she groaned, opening the squeaky, rusted metal door.

From the outside, the building looked old and abandoned with rust covering most of its corners. On the inside, it was the same except for the floors, which were made of hardwood. The equipment looked like it was about to fall apart, but Michelle did have a sort of fondness for this kind of spit and sawdust place. The gym was busy, with most of the machines already occupied. No one looked their way, which was a breath of fresh air compared to the kind of treatment they usually received.

On the far right corner of the gym was a wrestling ring that seemed to sparkle, as if it was prepared for Gerald in advance. Which, knowing the owner (as Gerald did), it probably was.

“Well, this is better than I expected,” Michelle said casually. Gerald side-eyed her, not knowing if she was being serious or sarcastic.

“Gerald!” A voice called out to them as they were nearing the wrestling ring. The scruffy, middle-aged, silver-haired man embraced Gerald, clearly happy to see him. He looked at Michelle and extended his hand, which Michelle reluctantly shook.

“This is Will Bardot. Former all-state wrestler of the year all four years in college. He has held many titles in the indy scene too,” Gerald said, with a smile. “Oh, and he was my wrestling coach when I first got started.”

“So this is the guy who taught you to wrestle, huh?” Michelle said snarkily. “Not bad, Will.”

Bardot and Grayson shared a laugh before Will motioned for them to get into the ring. Some commotion could be heard as a small crowd of gym users gathered around them, all eyes looking towards the sparring pair. Will’s trainers, three in number, stood outside the ring, calling for everyone in the gym to go back to what they were doing.

“Thanks for this, Will. I really appreciate it,” Gerald said, putting his knee pads on.

“No problem. You should visit more often. We miss you around these parts. You can even bring Michelle along anytime,” Will said, patting Gerald on the back.

“Yeah, sorry about that. It’s just that the FWA schedule is pretty gruelling. You know how it goes,” Gerald paused, “But I do wish I could be in here more often. Always good to come back to my roots.”

“I totally get it, Gerald. Now that you’re here, don’t think I’ll take it easy on you guys,” Will chuckled.

“Are you two going to keep talking or are we going to train?” Michelle questioned.

With that, Gerald stood across from Michelle with Will acting as the referee. Without wasting any time, Michelle went for the lock up, which Gerald immediately countered with a go-behind. Michelle acted quickly and countered with a go-behind of her own, tripping Gerald in the process. With Gerald on the mat, Michelle placed him in a front facelock. Gerald rolled around but Michelle rolled with him, rendering him unable to get out of the hold. Instead, Gerald used his strength to stand. With Michelle on his back, he found the closest corner and slammed Michelle onto it before snapmaring her to the middle of the ring.

“Now this is fun. We haven’t sparred in so long,” Gerald said with a chuckle, offering his hand to Michelle. Will was all smiles, happy to see his former student having the advantage early.

She slapped his hand away, again tripping Gerald so that he'd fall on his back, to which Gerald responded with a kip up. He waved his finger at her, angering Michelle with his overconfidence. They locked up again and Michelle scored a go-behind. This time, she planted Gerald onto the mat, applying another facelock. She floated over, wrenching on Gerald’s neck, slapping his forehead before letting go of the hold.

“See, this is why you haven’t been successful in singles matches,” she said, pausing for effect. “You get the advantage early but don’t execute in the end.”

Gerald glared at her. Will’s demeanour changed too, knowing those words probably stung more than they should have. More than their flippant delivery suggested they would.

Gerald went for an aggressive lockup, catching Michelle in a side headlock. She tried to use the ropes to throw Gerald off her but he held on. She tried it again, but Gerald's headlock became even tighter. She needled at his ribs with forearm strikes, eventually forcing some separation and throwing him off her. However, as Gerald rebounded off the ropes, he landed a shoulder tackle that sent her slender frame to the mat.

“You want to talk about our matches?" Gerald said argumentatively, looking down at her. He stopped short of outright questioning her focus, but his point was clear anyway. He'd mentioned it a couple of times during their journey back to the States, as well as half a hundred occasions before and during the European tour.

This again?” she rolled onto her stomach as she saw Gerald bounce off the ropes. She scrambled to her feet, ready to deliver a lariat upon reaplroach, but he skilfully ducked beneath it. Michelle bounced off the ropes that Gerald just hit, trying to confuse the Daredevil, but Gerald glanced behind and leaped over Michelle, and then caught her in a belly-to-belly stance. He threw her overhead and popped straight back up… only for Michelle to land on her feet! The two tag partners faced each other, breathing heavily as Will stood in between them.

“Yes, this again. You talk about wanting to have a historic reign, yet you’re overlooking the Undisputed Alliance,” Gerald said, with a somewhat annoyed tone.

“You’re worried about those guys? Come on, Gerald,” she scoffed. “You agreed we should be looking forwards from now on, not backwards.”

“This is exactly why I’m telling you this, Michelle! We’re at a place where we can’t afford to go backwards,” Gerald paused. “You don’t think your words are making it worse for us? Everyone is already gunning for us and the titles. Then you go running your mouth about wanting to have a historic reign. Why don’t we let our actions speak for us?”

Michelle looked down, shaking her head.

“It would be quite embarrassing if we lost to Nate and Jackson when we’re so heavily favoured, especially so early on in our reign."

Gerald glared at his partner. She worried him a lot. Not because of how she was, but because of her tendency to collect distractions and vendettas. Two years ago, they were on the run of their lives in the Elite Tag Team Classic. They were randomly put together and no one thought it would work out - and for good reason. But they made it to the finals against Golden Rock. He knew that, during this time, Michelle was trying to do her bit for the team and tournament, but also that strange forces were calling her. Forces that he didn't understand then and still didn't, really, even now. He knew, though, that her name was Bell.

He did at least see the side of this dramatically budding relationship that they presented to the world, and that Michelle externalised. Things were going Dreamer's way until Bell finally pushed back. When Bell pushed back, Michelle had to push back even harder. Things went back and forth between the two of them, all-the-while dragging her from him. By the end, their tag team was an afterthought. They lost to Golden Rock in the finals, failing to capture the tag team titles. The same thing happened in Tag Warz. Almost a carbon copy. He lamented history's repetition.

Fast forward to the F1 Climaxxx. Something about the two of them and tournaments, he couldn't help but think. This time they were separated, on their own respective journeys to get to the final. However, their tag team duties never disappeared or even slowed down. The Connection was stronger than ever - or so Gerald thought. Michelle had World Championship aspirations still, and maybe rightfully so. Going into the tournament, he knew that common thought had her as one of the favourites to win it all. While their bond as tag team partners was solid, this brought the Daredevil back to the scenario from two years ago. Michelle again pulling double duty. Again risking what they'd worked so hard to build. Something he couldn’t let go of. Maybe it was selfish of the boy to think this way, but if Michelle was in his shoes, he reasoned that she’d feel exactly the same.

“I think it’s a good time for a break,” Will said. Gerald and Michelle nodded in agreement. At least they could concur on something.

Will exited the ring as Gerald and Michelle hovered around the ropes. It was quiet between the tag champions, the pair letting the air clear before something they’d regret saying was said.

“So… what’s his deal?” Michelle said, finally.

Gerald followed her gaze to the punching bag area where a guy worked away at the bag as if the world had wronged him in some way. Maybe in a great number of ways.

“I remember him from the last time we were here,” she said observantly.

“You do?” Gerald paused. “That’s Corey.”

Michelle didn't reply, but continued to watch his heavy breathing as he meandered through his slow, laborious workout.

“Yeah, he’s here day in and day out I’m told. You can see he works hard. He puts in the time, but something’s just not working. Maybe he needs to change his routine to improve,” Gerald said casually, wiping the sweat from his forehead.

“Surely he realises that him coming here everyday and doing the same thing, seeing no results, is a waste of time?”

“I mean, it depends on what he’s working on. At least he’s putting in the work. He just needs some guidance, I guess. Maybe something at home isn’t working,” Gerald shrugged.

Will returned to the ring, handing both Michelle and Gerald some bottles of water. They each took a drink and seemed a little calmer for it.

“Ready to go again?” Will questioned both of them. They each nodded, throwing their water bottles to the side.

Michelle and Gerald took up opposite corners with Will in the middle. He motioned them to begin as the tag team partners circled each other, trying to find an advantage. Before long, Gerald managed to get behind Michelle and looked for a German. She tried to break from the hold, punching on Gerald’s hands and delivering back elbow strikes. She ran forward, bouncing them both off the ropes so that they tumbled down together. This time, Michelle had the advantage, stomping on Gerald’s left shoulder before he could find a vertical base.

She allowed him to get to his feet, glaring at her in return. Gerald went for the lockup immediately, scoring with a side headlock. Michelle used the ropes to push him off. On the rebound, Michelle caught Gerald in a sleeper! Gerald tried to get a hold of the ropes to break out of it, but wasn't able to, his actions getting more desperate in the face of oncoming slumber. Instead, he eventually dropped down to a knee, the perspiration allowing him to slip out of the hold, and the Daredevil tripped up Michelle in the process. Gerald floated over towards her legs and placed her in a figure four leg lock! Will checked on Michelle, but she waved him off. He had it in a tight grip, wrenching on her legs.

“Tap, Michelle,” he uttered.

“No chance,” she declared in response, to which he wrenched on her legs even more.

However, with the momentum in doing that, Michelle somehow found a way to flip herself over, reversing the lock and applying the pressure to Gerald's limbs instead. She climbed to her feet and collected her partner’s left leg. She put his knee on the back of her head and began wrenching on it, garnering a yelp of pain from Gerald.

“Tap,” she said, knowing she was in control.

Gerald glared at her, causing Michelle to wrench on his knee even more.

“You should probably tap, Gerald,” Will offered his advice.

“Don’t make me start stomping, Gerald,” she said, wrenching on his leg even more. “You know I’ll do it."

Gerald tapped. Will immediately gripped Michelle on the shoulder, letting her know he was done. That it was done. Gerald just lay there, Michelle joining him in a seated position.

“Good session, partner,” she said sarcastically.

“Fuck you,” Gerald uttered. She laughed, and then helped him to his feet.

*****

"Why did I agree to this?" Gerald asked, as a fresh Coors Light - his fourth of the night, which was uncharacteristic in and of itself - was placed down onto the table in front of him. He leant back on his chair and rubbed his stomach as if to sooth it.

"This is the tax you agreed to pay for making me catch a flight," Michelle replied, whilst narrowing her eyes. The memory of the Trans-Atlantic journey, connecting through Paris and then Atlanta, was still as fresh as Gerald's drink. She'd never truly forgive him for that ordeal. "Three flights, to be specific. The least you can give me is your company for an evening."

Gerald looked at his beer and wondered how he was going to finish another pint of it. Michelle smiled at his trepidation in a fit of schadenfreude.

"Unless by this you specifically mean what you're drinking," she continued, with a playful shrug. "I can't say why you agreed to light beer. That's for you to answer. I thought that's what you always drank?"

"Light beer is fine," Gerald said. Michelle thought she could hear his stomach rumble during his pause. “It’s just the quantity of it. I agreed to get the bus from here to Denver. Is that not tax enough?”

“I don’t care if you get the bus to Denver or not,” Michelle answered, with a scoff. “Fly if you like. It’s on your conscience.”

"Hangovers and title defences,” Gerald moped, ponderously. “That's all you ever get me, Dreamer."

“You’re leaving out the championships,” Dreamer said. She picked up her drink, a neat Jameson’s, and swirled it around in the glass. “The wins… the glory…”

“I had enough of that before you came along,” Gerald argued. He sipped hesitantly at the head of his beer, displeasure creeping onto his countenance in reflection of its bitter taste. “I’ll have enough of it after you, too.”

“There is no after me, Gerald,” Michelle answered. Her grin was now all-encompassing, eyes glinting devilishly as she watched Grayson’s determined but resilient attempts to drink his beer. "I'm everywhere, and this is for keeps."

"Encouraging to hear you speak with such certainty," Gerald replied. "It's been a while."

"We agreed not to talk about that," Dreamer snapped. "Not the past, please: the future. Maybe not the Undisputed Alliance, though. I've all but exhausted my conversational fodder on our friends Nate and Jackson already. Fortunately, though, this historic reign doesn’t end with them.”

“We shouldn’t look past our next opponents,” Gerald declared, but his heart wasn’t in the utterance. Half of the words were slurred, and the last two were interrupted by the Daredevil’s staunch efforts to keep his latest sip down.

“Oh but we should, tulip,” Dreamer replied. She signalled to the barman - whose station behind the counter was separated from the duo’s booth by the entrance to a staircase leading to the bathroom - for another drink. “What do you think it is that drives me through the mundanity? It’s the thought of what lies ahead, of course…”

“And what does lie ahead?” Gerald asked. He remained absent and aloof. More concerned with settling the storm that was brewing in the pit of his stomach. He no longer even attempted to drink his beer, which sat abandoned on the table between them.

“Difficult to say,” Michelle mused. She collected her pack of Camels from her pocket and began to idly rotate it in one of her hands. “I just hope it isn’t the Coven or the Lumberjacks again. I’m getting tired of the retreads. There are fresher challenges, if you're willing to look hard enough. Jeffry Mason's little project, for one thing."

"They've never had a match together here," Gerald said, with a derisive shrug. "At least not on the same team. And they're falling apart at the seams before they've even started. Their priorities don't seem to be in the tag division."

Michelle half-saw a wince cross over Gerald's face as he questioned the priorities of these hypothetical future opponents. The Daredevil noticed the change in his own countenance, too, though he hoped - perhaps supposing that Michelle's levels of focus and perception had deteriorated as much as his own - that she hadn't caught it. The ideas of misplaced priorities and confused focus had been common in his thoughts recently, though levelled against his own partner instead of those that might stand against them. He bit his tongue and fell quiet. That topic would be difficult enough to broach in the midst of sobriety.

"This new princess, then," Michelle continued, electing not to comment or dwell upon the cloud that momentarily descended between them. "And the Classics student."

"Are you just naming teams that haven't had matches yet?" Gerald answered, whilst waving her away dismissively. "At least Mason and what's-his-face have even debuted."

"She was in the battle royale," Dreamer pointed out.

"Months ago," replied Gerald. "If you're thinking that far in the future, then it’s Black and Peacock we have to worry about.”

“I wouldn’t count on it,” Michelle said, flippantly. She noticed the Daredevil had closed his eyes and clenched the hand that rested on the table into a fist. He was a picture of focus. His only objective in life at this moment was to get through the conversation. He’d given up on getting through the beer. “Peacock has a way of grating on tag team partners. He’s had a fair few of them already, and they usually end up resenting him. Or not trusting him. Or not liking him. I’d be surprised if this strange and sudden relationship lasts long enough for them to get anywhere near us.”

Gerald said nothing. For a moment, Michelle thought that maybe he’d fallen asleep, but for his gently furrowing brow, which expressed further discontent at his current predicament.

“An uninspiring and inexperienced field,” Dreamer surmised. The barman finally arrived with a new drink for her, which she sipped through a long straw whilst surveying her partner’s misery. “Which I guess is how we got here, with Fenix and Savage as our most worthy would-be challengers.”

“Can only beat what’s in front of you,” Grayson said. Michelle sensed the irony: Gerald’s fourth pint was still barely touched in front of him, and there was no way he was beating it. As he uttered the platitude, his cheeks involuntarily bulged out and his eyes shot open as if he’d been suddenly awoken from a bad dream. He mumbled a poorly assembled and mostly inaudible sentence which amounted to him excusing himself, before quickly exiting through the door to the bathroom.

As she waited for her partner to return, and this wait stretched on for minute after minute, Dreamer began to scan the bar for the first time since their arrival. It didn’t take long for her to notice the pair of unwelcome eyes that were trained on her. Their owner was reluctant to avert his gaze for even a second, just in case he should miss the moment in which she returned it. The manner of this long, hard stare was one that she’d grown unfortunately accustomed to over the years since she was a girl. Hostile in a more subtle way, though it was true she’d grown used to the more overtly hostile kinds of glares also. Instead, the youngish and attractivish man seated on the other side of the room looked at her with the brand of lechery she knew most men to be prone to and all men capable of. She narrowed her eyes, the edges of her lips curling into an ill-tempered and cautionary sneer. Her new friend mistook her cold, non-verbal response as an invitation, or perhaps a challenge, because he picked up his drink and made his way over.

“I’m sure you don’t mind if I join you,” he said, as he took the seat opposite from her, which Gerald had only recently vacated. She could’ve almost admired his confidence, if his demeanour wasn’t so utterly repugnant. “Will your friend be back?”

“At any moment,” she answered, her eyes still narrowed. The other remained oblivious to her obvious hostility. This inability to read a simple situation brought an inference of intellectual inferiority. Moments like these made her feel more self-assured about her superiority complex.

“Then I’ll be quick,” he said, aloofly, leaning back in his chair. His misplaced confidence and over-familiarity, almost to the point where his unearned ease suggested he felt this was his place and not hers, made her feel uncomfortable. This only fortified her quiet anger. The man across from her tried to continue, but she cut him off.

“No, you don’t have enough time here to be quick,” she began, curtly. She almost wanted him to try it. Gerald was close to the end of his evening, and this interlude might serve to jumpstart her own. “Not welcome. You need to leave.”

“I just wanted to buy you a drink,” the man said. He was deflated, and now looked at her through the eyes of a scorned or neglected pet. “You don’t like guys or something?”

“I like guys just fine,” she replied. Gerald emerged as the interloper removed himself from his seat. He collected his coat and promptly left, all-the-while muttering the ramblings of a broken ego.

”Who was that?” Gerald asked. He seemed pale, but a lot fresher.

“Nobody,” Michelle said.
 

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"Well, what is it?" Michelle enquired, after following Uncle into the room and beholding the large mechanism situated in the centre of it. The contraption consisted of a large, white bucket seat, a pair of yellow marigold gloves, a green bicycle helmet, and a series of tightly coiled wires running between them.

"This is what you asked for," Uncle answered, proudly. He was standing next to a control panel and interface in the corner of the room, beneath the window, and had an almost giddy demeanour about him as he pushed an elaborate sequence of buttons. For once, he showed no real signs of wishing to elaborate by his own free will.

"I've asked for many, many things in my life," Michelle replied, whilst taking a few hesitant steps towards the machine. "But I'm quite confident this isn't one of them."

"You were in a phone booth in Raleigh," Uncle began. He momentarily turned away from his interface to gesticulate in Michelle's direction. "I was fighting off a squadron of sundl warriors on Xherr''on-IX's third moon. I remember it vividly, Nephew! I asked you what you were going to do before Back in Town. You said to me, and I quote, 'I'd quite like to learn more about this World of Shadow'. This machine will allow you to do that."

Michelle thought back to the conversation. She remembered saying the line that Uncle threw back at her now, or something close to it. She'd spent a good portion of her 2022 doing her utmost to find out more about the man behind the Cyrus Truth legend, and sought out many of the semi-familiar faces with links to the Exile. Some of these links were more tedious than others, but even those that had spent actual time with him failed to provide the insight she sought. Even Shannon and Rondo. That world, the world that she knew and that she was a part of, failed to illuminate Truth's darker corners. For that, she'd need to enter the Shadows.

"So it's a simulation?" Michelle asked.

"In essence, yes," Uncle began. He returned to his control panel and continued to push buttons, seemingly at random. The machine began to stir. "But it's not as rudimentary as that thing Princeton has. Even Earth A.I. has come on a long way since then, imagine how far intergalactic programmers have progressed. It’s a marvel, really. Just ignore anyone that has six fingers. We’ll crack that one day."

"One of your inventions?" Michelle queried, whilst inspecting the contraption’s low and heavily-cushioned seat.

"Yes," Uncle said, quickly, but then he hesitated. “Well, Thomas built and programmed it. But we Nephews are a unit. A family. We share in each other’s successes.”

Michelle nodded her head, all-the-while moving towards the machine and, finally, taking a seat in it.

“It’s not exactly what I had in mind,” Michelle admitted. She found that the chair was on a swivel and rotated it towards Uncle. “I’d have thought you’d have an in in the World of Shadow. Would’ve preferred to have done this for real.”

“Oh, please,” Uncle scoffed. “We’d never get permission from Cyrus to do this for real.”

"I'm surprised you feel you'd need to get permission from Cyrus," Dreamer said. A playful smirk crept onto her lips. Uncle laughed off her suggestion.

"If I really needed to infiltrate his dark little world, I could and would do it," Uncle explained. "But… even if Cyrus couldn't really harm me, he certainly has enough resources and connections down here on Earth to make things more difficult for me than they currently are. And, as you may have noticed, a healthy percentage of my business seems to take place on this little blue and green planet. But anyway, I'm ready! Are you ready?"

"You're coming with me?" Michelle asked, as Uncle began to connect the wires to their ports on the helmet and gloves. He handed each object to Dreamer in turn, who warily put them in place.

"No, only one seat in this train," Uncle answered. He pulled the straps of the seatbelt and clasped them in position. "Might be a bumpy ride, Dreamer. Safety first!"

"How long will it take?" Michelle went on in her constant questioning. She made a resolution to stop asking so many questions. She feared it made her look ill-informed. Just one more. "What will I find there?"

"I'm not exactly sure," JAY! mused, thoughtfully. "Thomas programmed it, remember. I wanted to be surprised so I've remained spoiler-free. But I'll be watching, right here."

He tapped the screen in front of him, and then began to enter the final sequence of inputs.

"Just as long as you can promise me –"





MICHELLE von HORROWITZ
in
[VOLUME ONE HUNDRED & FOUR]
roguelike.jpg






"-- that it's safe," she said.

But, somewhere in the middle of that nervous and rather basic sentence, a gentle click like a shuffling kaleidoscope sounded, and the scene surrounding her shifted accordingly. She was still in a room, but was now sitting in an old, creaking rocking chair instead of the simulation machine. There were still wires, but now they were uncoiled and straight and metaphorical, leading up to the rafters and a team of unseen puppeteers. And she was still with a man, but now the figure of Cyrus Truth loomed before her instead of the familiar and strangely comforting Uncle. His back turned to her, his hands clasped tightly behind him, staring out of the window at the cold Louisiana morning unfolding before him. He turned to face her with a consternated countenance, full of a lack of patience and overt ill-will.

"What's safe?" he asked. He collected his coat from the hook on the back of the door and walked past the radio. It was playing an old, sad song.

"You ready to go?"

"Where are we going?" she asked. Resolutions are always broken quickly. Cyrus quietly seethed, his impatience growing to levels that other mortals could barely comprehend, let alone bear.

"I explained all of this to you last night," Truth said, as he pushed his arms through his long, grey trench coat.

"Last night," Michelle murmured, mostly to herself. She remembered where she was, and glanced around the room for clues that might help uncover the narrative. The first thing her eyes fell upon was an unkempt bed. Her eyes widened, surprising and only partially unappetising possibilities revealing themselves to her. “We didn’t…”

“Control yourself,” Truth instructed, sternly. “Were you that drunk? Am I going to have to re-convince you every morning?”

“Maybe just this one,” Michelle said.

“The Tentacle of Shadow is of great interest to me, and a large number of others in the World of Shadow,” Cyrus began, entering exposition mode. He walked back to the window and stared out of it again, as one might do when reiterating information to an impertinent or un-diligent subordinate. “At times appearing as if wrought in white-stone, and at others a midnight onyx, but its most interesting feature goes beyond the aesthetic. It hums with a vibrant chirality that couldn’t be matched by all the engines and gadgets aboard your Uncle’s ship combined. So much so that it draws all from that field towards it. Your own hunt for this artefact, bumbling and clumsy and amateur as it may be, has intersected with my own on several occasions. Even slowed it down, at times. Last night, I proposed that we unite our separate pursuits, at least until the Tentacle is in our hands. You agreed, though you seem to have no recollection of it.”

“Now that you explain it in such detail, it sort of rings a bell,” Michelle said, flippantly. She rose to her feet and collected her rucksack. Her eyes drifted onto the door. “Shall we?”

Truth nodded and led the way into the street. They were a short ride out from the suburbs of New Orleans, but fortunately his driver waited patiently for them in a black Rolls. He pulled up alongside them, both Dreamer and Truth climbing into the backseat, Michelle on the passenger side. She didn’t recognise the streets, and only knew where she was because of the road signs, which told her that she was travelling towards the city. She couldn’t answer for the realism of the simulation, and half-hoped they’d get closer to the city’s nucleus that she’d once lived in so that she could test that.

“We’re going to NOLA?” she asked, puncturing a silence that had lingered between them since they entered the car.

“I think that’s the wisest course of action,” Cyrus said, slowly and thoughtfully. Everything he said, he said slowly and thoughtfully. Even when he was overcome with violent rage, which was frequently, he still spoke with an unmatched clarity. “I know a fence there who specialises in artefacts of this kind. I've set up a meeting already. I'll do the talking, naturally. You just have to keep your eyes out for anything untoward."

Michelle nodded, somewhat absently, and continued to stare past Truth as their car came to a halt at a set of traffic lights. The Exile looked only ahead, through the front window and for any signs of their oncoming destination. Perhaps that was his problem. He didn't see the man in the grey suit approaching his rear driver's side window. The one that Truth was sitting next to. The suited man was already only a couple of paces away when Dreamer watched him reach into the inside pocket of his jacket, his eyes trained on her new companion.

Slowly, she pointed at this interloper.

"Something untoward," she said. Truth's eyes turned to face the grey suited man, who had retrieved a large handgun from his pocket.

The Exile didn't react in time for the first bullet, which crashed through his window with a deafening smash and then lodged just below his shoulder. Michelle was transfixed by the man's pale, almost ivory skin, which had a dull goldenglow about it. His gun was pointed at Cyrus again, this time directly at his temple. Truth was quick enough for the second bullet. He grasped their attacker's wrist with his good arm and thrust it up into the top of the car, the bullet blasting through the roof and leaving a hole in it. The impact and the recoil caused the gun to fall out of his hand and into the Exile's footwell. Instinctively, Cyrus grabbed the man's tie and yanked his head through the smashed window.

"Drive!" came Cyrus' urgent and intense instruction. As Truth wrestled the attacker into the car, both of their blood now pooling next to the discard weapon, the driver followed the command. He put his foot down, speeding through the red light and into the middle of the busy intersection.

The white van's horn was more high-pitched than she'd expected for a vehicle of its size, but it was loud enough to draw her attention. Cyrus, though, was too wrapped up in his own struggle to see the van as it rammed into his side of the car.

They span twice before coming to a halt, a half-dozen or so other vehicles screeching and swerving to avoid them. The van lost control following the impact, too, speeding up before reaching a sudden stop against a streetlight. A shrill ringing sound bombarded Michelle's right ear, and a dull pain throbbed in her neck. But, generally, she was okay.

"Maybe we should get guns, too," she mused, as she turned to face Truth. He made no response. Both he and the attacker had been crushed upon impact, whilst the driver had lost consciousness and was now relentlessly sounding his car horn with his forehead.

As she looked upon the two bodies next to her, it was difficult to say where one of them stopped and the other started. She didn't know whose blood was whose. Their bodies, now useless, were intertwined and unified like tangled roots. Her breathing laboured, she reached into the footwell to retrieve the handgun. And then she heard, from all around her, a sudden, soft click, which came with the sense that she was being swallowed whole.





"You ready to go?"

An old, sad song was playing on the radio. The Exile stood with his back to her and his hands clasped together behind him, staring out of the window and into the Louisiana morning. She was sitting in an old rocking chair that creaked as she gently reclined it, an unkempt bed the room’s other main feature.

“We just did this,” Michelle said.

“You don’t have to remind me how often we’ve been thrust together, Dreamer,” Cyrus answered, as he collected his long, grey trench-coat from the hook on the door. “But if you’re aware of the stakes, let’s get on with it.”

Outside the building, Cyrus made towards the black Rolls parked up nearby. Michelle reached for his wrist to stay his hand.

“We should walk,” she instructed.

“To New Orleans?” Truth asked, impatiently.

“Just for a little while,” Dreamer said, as she led the way up the sidewalk. She was watchful of her surroundings, her eyes flitting between street corners and blindspots. Cyrus wasn't best pleased with the directive (and, more generally, didn't seem the type to enjoy taking instructions) but dutifully followed behind Michelle. After witnessing Michelle's own scanning of the surroundings and quiet trepidation, Truth soon joined her in keeping a watchful eye on what was ahead and behind, though with less clarity as to what he was looking for.

The roads became busier as they slowly meandered closer to the city, and after around twenty minutes they arrived at the busy intersection that remained vivid in Michelle's mind. The white van had long since passed, given their slow progress to this familiar point. Dreamer stared across the intersection, leaning against a road sign in front of a long, low bush. Cyrus hung back a few paces, providing a rear guard, his body hidden from the intersection by the front of a parked truck. Walking across the road towards her was a man in a grey suit with an otherworldly goldenglow. He reached into the inside pocket of his jacket.

"There," Michelle said. Truth peered around the side of the truck to see their attacker produce a handgun and expel a bullet in his direction. The Exile retreated behind the vehicle as the projectile ricocheted off its front bumper. Michelle, roused from her inactivity by the high-pitched and shrill clang of the ricochet, leapt over the bush and lay still behind it.

She turned her head to see the attacker walk around the truck, pointing his gun at the spot he assumed Cyrus would be occupying. Truth wasn't there. A moment later, the Exile leapt from the roof of the truck, landing on the assassin and rolling to the ground with him. The gun skidded away and into the road. Cyrus heaved his assailant over with a judo throw, and then held him in a grounded position with a hammerlock.

In a nearby alley, Truth broke one of the assailant's arms and one of his legs whilst Michelle stood guard. He repeatedly asked the man who he was, who he worked for, what he wanted. Each time, the attacker would remain silent, or sometimes mumble some pained obscenities. Then, Cyrus began to work on the fingers, starting with the left hand's pinky and moving towards the right.

"We are Legion," the attacker finally groaned, amidst his muffled, agonised cries. Truth had already reached his right thumb. "We are Everything. Everywhere. Everyone. The thing that you seek is already in our possession. I was sent here to put an end to your pursuit."

"Where is the Tentacle?" Cyrus asked. The assassin spat in his face, so Truth took the thumb. The man let out a screech, which the Exile smothered with his gloved hand. He began to talk again when Cyrus reached for his index finger.

"New Orleans," he muttered. "There's a facility. I don't know where, exactly. Not everybody knows. It's an insurance against this exact situation."

Dreamer watched on as Truth looked into the man's soul. He seemed to believe him. He nodded his head, and then knocked the assassin out with the butt of his pistol. He turned away and walked past Michelle.

“You’re not going to kill him?” she asked. “That’s what he would’ve done to you. What he was trying to do to you.”

“I’m not going to kill him,” Truth said. “You can, if you want. He’s already given all six fingers on one hand and a thumb on the other. I think that’s enough. I’ll wait in the car and call in a silent escort. Make your choice.”

He disappeared out of the alley, and Dreamer went back to look at the unconscious frame of the attacker. Legion. He was out cold and losing blood quickly, and Michelle mused that he might not make it even without further intervention. The duality of Cyrus Truth’s morality troubled her. His methods did not prohibit the savage display she’d just witnessed, but his code would not permit him to pull the trigger and finish the job. She lit a cigarette, and then became aware of a dull buzz emanating from her rucksack.

From the bottom of the bag she retrieved a phone. It continued to ring and vibrate in her hand, the screen illuminated with the octopi written above the incoming number in a narrow, white font.

“Uncle?”

“Dreamer!” came the warm greeting from the other end of the line. “Good to hear your voice, Nephew! I see things are going well with Cyrus. Didn’t doubt it for a minute. He’s a true Nephew, deep down. I think you two will make quite the dynamic duo.”

“Where are you?” Michelle asked. “Are you back in Denver? Can you see me in the chair?”

“Oh, no, Dreamer,” Uncle replied. “I’m not the real Uncle, if that’s what you’re asking. I’m part of the simulation, too. Just a series of zeroes and ones. But I’m programmed differently to the rest of it. I’m conscious of the facts of my reality, or lack thereof, for one thing. All of us Nephews are. We exist outside of your little… shall we call them re-sets? Or maybe re-spawns? Perhaps re-births? Which would you prefer?”

Re-sets,” she answered. “That seems closest to it. But there’s only been one of them.”

“So far,” Uncle said. “There will probably be more if you don’t keep your eye on Cyrus. He’ll need greater protection than his silent escort can provide, with Legion on his tail. Can you see him right now?”

“Yes,” Michelle lied. She glanced around the alleyway. It was just her and the unconscious assassin.

“You’re lying,” Uncle replied. “Keep your eye on him, Dreamer, or you’ll be back in your rocking chair. We’ll be here along the way for tactical support, should you need it. You have my number.”

“Wait,” Michelle said, suddenly. “Why do I have a phone?”

“This is a simulation, Dreamer,” Uncle explained. “You know that.”

“Yes, but isn’t realism important in a simulation?” she asked.

“Sort of,” JAY! mused. “But we’re Nephews. Story progression trumps all, Dreamer! Speaking of which: stay close to Cyrus, and get to New Orleans.”

Half an hour later, the two arrived at a gloomy, quiet bar on the very edge of the city. The bar was named Patrick’s but there was nobody called Patrick there. An old, dour barmaid served Michelle a beer from a pump clad with dust. Cyrus didn’t order anything. He only pointed at a door that led to a backroom. The woman behind the bar nodded, and the Exile silently led the way out of the bar’s public room and into an even smaller, even gloomier, and even quieter private one. A long couch blocked half of the room’s only window, which was small and ineffectual anyway. Two high-backed leather chairs were positioned across from it, and on the coffee table between them was a smattering of discarded empty glasses and an overflowing ashtray.

The thin, tall, and wiry man sitting on the couch continued to smoke as they approached. Michelle finally felt free to light one of her own. She sipped at her beer in-between drags as they took a seat each opposite the narrow man. She found herself hoping that they’d stay here a while.

The man seated in front of them now, who for the moment was electing to remain silent, was Perceval Y. Knight. Perceval was a fence who specialised in peculiar artefacts from the World of Shadow, as well as some cosmic items from further afield. This was made known to Dreamer on the short ride to the bar, but now that they were here the two men sat in a tense, uneasy silence. Michelle got the impression that Truth thought very little of the fence. A necessary evil, maybe. One to be exploited but not trusted. Michelle enjoyed her cigarette, finding that the nicotine helped to cut through the atmosphere.

“Surly Cyrus sullies himself in a place like this,” Perceval finally said. His voice was as thin as the rest of him. “Your need must be dire. What can I do for you, Exile?”

“Only what you owe,” Truth replied, curtly. “We’re closing in on the Tentacle of Shadow. We think it’s in New Orleans, with an organisation that calls themselves Legion. We had a run-in on the road with one that was following us here. All I need from you is information, though you owe a lot more.”

Perceval Y. Knight’s narrow, pursed lips had curled up into a sinister smile. It seemed as though he rather enjoyed seeing the Great Cyrus Truth asking him for a favour, and decided to relish it a moment longer. He took a sip of his drink and lit another cigarette.

“I know of this Legion,” Knight answered. Everything. Everywhere. Everyone. That’s their mantra. Their facility is the old Cooper’s warehouse down on the port. But I’ve heard nothing linking them to the Shadow Tentacle or any other Tentacle, for that matter.”

“Worth checking out,” Truth said. “We’ll finish our drink in the public bar, if that’s all you have for me?”

“That’s all I have,” Perceval replied. His lips were still formed into a tight sneer, and the way he pondered over the word I...

Behind Truth and Dreamer, the doors to the backroom were flung open. A trio of grey-suited assassins bathed the room in goldenglow. Cyrus rose to his feet but far too slowly. Each of his assailants had already emptied half their magazine into him, and he fell back onto his chair, lifeless and still, but for the final air escaping his lungs.

The three gunmen turned to face her, their weapons still raised. She was saved by a sudden, soft click that swallowed her whole.





"You ready to go?"

An old, sad song played on the radio. Cyrus turned away from the window to collect his jacket from a hook on the back of the door. Michelle continued to recline on the creaking rocking chair.

"Not yet," Michelle said. "You're not the only one who's come here with information."

"You seemed pretty clueless last night," Cyrus answered, with a self-important sneer of his own. "When I told you about the Tentacle."

"'No substance behind the mystery'," Michelle quoted, or rather paraphrased. "Those were your words, or something to that effect. Only a step above the misogyny you frequently like to hurl in my direction. Your perception of me is clouded by your anger. Anger at your own failures. Do you want to hear what I know, or not?"

"Speak," Cyrus instructed. The directive made her shudder.

"Your man Perceval is bad," Michelle began, with confidence. "He's working for an organisation called Legion, based out of New Orleans. They want the Tentacle too, and claim they already have it. I… questioned... one of them, and he alluded to a facility down on the port. The old Cooper's warehouse. We should head there."

Michelle stood up and collected her rucksack. Cyrus was standing between her and the door. He gave her a cold, hard look. One that seemed to drill into her, until he approached an understanding of the Truth of her words.

"Anything else?" he asked, as he opened the door.

"Call for a silent escort, and any help you can get at the port itself," she said. "Their assassins are following us, but mostly you. The ones I've seen already are men in grey suits. I'll have my people keep watch over us, too."

"Have you and your Uncle been spying on me?" he blustered, as he followed her onto the street. Michelle climbed into the passenger side seat of his Rolls.

"It's a good job I have been," Michelle pointed out. Truth joined her in the backseat and, after issuing an instruction to the driver, they began in the direction of the port.

In the car, Dreamer felt the annoyingly familiar buzzing of the phone in the bottom of her rucksack. She sat back and opened a new message after several failed attempts at entering the correct command. This wasn’t a skill she wished to acquire.

|| UNCLE || How many re-sets now?

|| DREAMER || Two.

|| UNCLE || Not bad if you’re already on the way to the warehouse. Harry completed the simulation in five. Bypassing Perceval was smart, though he’ll be disappointed to be left out of the story.

|| DREAMER || You can ‘complete’ the simulation?

|| UNCLE || Not ‘can’, more ‘have to’... got to finish the narrative! Everything has to have an arc, Nephew.

|| DREAMER || I think we’ll need more than just the two of us at the warehouse. Can you help?

|| UNCLE || Only from up here. We’ll provide aerial support, but no ‘boots on the ground’, Dreamer!

|| DREAMER || Helpful.

|| UNCLE || We’ll try to be x

Cyrus, meanwhile, was stirring up support of his own, and when they arrived at the port there were four dark, shrouded figures waiting for them in the Shadows. Three of them were local: an assassin mage holding a long, gently smouldering spear, a hulking figure with massive fists who possessed no weapon but giant’s blood, and an exiled bounty hunter from Nicaragua who packed chiral blasters at his hips. All three of them wore red. The fourth was more familiar: Konchu Hao was leant against the wire mesh fencing that surrounded the facility, his arms folded and a knowing smirk on his face. As Cyrus approached the makeshift party, Hao picked up a satchel of supplies and slung it over his shoulder.

“You all know why you're here," Cyrus said. He spoke with urgency and brevity. "This is a facility of Legion, where they claim to be housing the Tentacle of Shadow. They might be lying, of course, but we're assembled here to find out."

"Legion is a name I know," the assassin mage said. "Its whispers haunt this city."

"Everything, Everywhere, Everyone," extolled the giant, affirming his own knowledge.

"More than just a mantra," the assassin mage mused. "It's who they say they are. What they say they are. With the Shadow Tentacle in their hands… if they could harness the power that comes with it…"

"And where, exactly, will the Tentacle be kept after we retrieve it, if it even is here?" Konchu asked, as he followed the group towards a corner of the outer fence.

"Out of their hands is enough for now," Cyrus said. Konchu made no reply, but retrieved from his bag a small pot of red powder, which he proceeded to scatter upon the wire mesh. The metal quickly melted away, a large hole in the shape of a high arch forming and through which the party entered.

Inside the facility, the first two doors along an empty and derelict corridor led into small labs. Each of the party took turns inspecting the various machines assembled there, but the specifics of the devices meant little to Michelle. What was obvious even to her, though, was that the laboratories were in disuse. None of the machines showed any signs of life. Not even the security cameras that loomed overhead and were covered in a thick coating of dust.

"Doesn't seem like the sort of place to keep the Shadow Tentacle," Cyrus said.

"It's the perfect place if you think nobody knows about it," Dreamer mused.

The party continued down the corridor and, through the third door, entered a large canteen hall in a similar condition to the neglected labs. The tables and chairs were stacked away on the edges of the room, giving it the impression of an assembly hall with the serving counter as its altar.

As the rest of the group continued to peruse the room, Cyrus paused in the middle of it. He remained completely stationary, but for his eyes, which scanned the series of doors that circled the room, unobstructed by the carefully stacked tables and chairs. Michelle halted when she noticed the Exile’s trepidation. Konchu seemed to sense something, too. Dreamer glanced towards one of the dozen-ish doors around the room which lay ajar. A shadow passed over it.

“Quiet,” Cyrus said. “They’re here.”

The party remained in the centre of the room, cauldroned by the oncoming ambush. The bounty hunter handed one of his chiral blasters to Michelle, who pointed it towards the half-open door. As she did, seven or eight others burst open, and through them emerged lines of gunmen in grey suits, their own weapons raised and showering the group with bullets. The goldenglow was almost blinding. Konchu threw up a hasty protective spell around them, and the party lurched into action.

The assassin mage’s spear was swift and sudden, whilst the bounty hunter’s blaster was used sparingly and with pinpoint accuracy amongst more evasive manoeuvres. The giant, meanwhile, barrelled into the largest gathering of grey suits and began to throw anyone he could get his hands on into the nearest wall. All three of them fought bravely, and without their efforts the amount of assailants descending upon them in the ambush may have been unassailable. But all three perished in the ensuing battle, overcome by the sheer number of assassins that suddenly surrounded them.

Konchu, however, fought brilliantly and elegantly. Amidst barrages of explosive offensives, the Mad Wizard would intermittently transfigure into a raven to claw at the eyes of their assailants, and then a woodpecker to gnaw through a wooden support beam and bring the roof crashing down onto a half-dozen grey suits. The hole it left allowed aerial support from a circling DreadnOct, which circled the scene from above and cut through any visible grey suits with its mounted blaster. Finally, the Wizard took the shape of a giant crow to feast on the flesh of the fallen, his prey sometimes living and sometimes dead, before returning to his common form to join the fray in Truth’s aid.

The Exile employed close quarters combat, coupled with the Wizard’s protective spells that covered him more than anyone, to debilitate his would-be assailants. He was the only one of the six infiltrators - three now dead - to have any such moral qualms. Dreamer used her chiral blaster much less prudently than the bounty hunter, and had to take his from his lifeless body after a second wave of assassins arrived. This one lasted her until the last of them fell, the victim of a savage judo throw from Cyrus that flung him over the canteen counter and onto the top of his head.

Truth stared down at his fallen opponent. His breathing was heavy. His hands were clenched at his side.

Behind him, Konchu Hao stood, the assassin mage’s spear in his hands. Then, too suddenly for Michelle to decide whether she wanted to do anything about it, the Mad Wizard plunged the spear into the Exile’s back.

“Kehahahahahhahahah!” came the Wizard’s exclamation, as Truth fell to his knees and then onto his back. The cackle was full of life and joy, as both - or what little understanding he had of both - drained away from his defeated foe. “Old fool. Trying to harness the Shadow Tentacle’s power for yourself, at your age?! I’ve been closer to getting my hands on the Tentacle than you have in years, Exile. Time to stand aside.”

“Going to have to kill me,” Truth said, but the words were hardwon. He was coughing up blood, and Michelle sensed his end was near. Her blaster was empty. She watched the scene unfold from across the disused canteen, a wall of dead bodies surrounding them.

“I might just,” Konchu returned, with another thin giggle. “But first, I guess I should thank you. You’ve brought me close to the Tentacle again. You don’t know how long I’ve been waiting for this moment…”

With the spear still in his left hand, Hao reached into his satchel with the other and collected a notepad. Masterplan to kill Cyrus Truth was scrawled onto the front of it in Konchu’s hand. He showed the Exile the cover, and then struck him across the face with it. It seemed heavy.

“You’d have thought you’d have seen this coming,” the Wizard said, as he lowered the spear towards the Exile’s chest. “All of your friends turn against you, eventually.”

“We’re not friends,” Cyrus managed. It was about all he could.

“Quite,” Konchu replied. His smile was gone. “But I will replace you, eventually.”

The Mad Wizard thrust the spear into the Exile a second time, on this occasion forcing a violent jerk out of him. When he pulled the head back out again Cyrus stopped moving. Michelle sighed, and waited impatiently for a sudden, soft click to swallow her whole.





“You ready to go?”

An old, sad song played on the radio. Michelle rocked herself back and forth on her creaking chair. She worried that she might be in here forever. That she might lose her mind here. She wondered if that was better or worse than losing her mind out there.

Dutifully, she filled Cyrus in on the intel she’d accrued through nothing more than repetition of the scenario, and the Exile assembled the same team of makeshift mercenaries to once more meet them at the facility by the port. This time, however, Michelle’s first action upon leaving the car at the rendezvous point was to take one of the chiral blasters from the bounty hunter’s hips and put a hole in the traitor Konchu Hao.

Only a couple of seconds later, the mage’s spear was against Michelle’s neck, and the bounty hunter’s second blaster was pointed at her vital organs.

“What is this, Cyrus?” the mage asked. “You brought us here to ambush us?”

“Explain yourselves,” the bounty hunter said. Michelle sensed that she only still lived because she had arrived here with Cyrus. Dreamer turned to face her companion, whose enraged countenance suggested he expected a swift explanation as well.

“In his bag,” Dreamer said. She daren’t move with the mage’s spear so close to her throat. “There’s a book.”

The giant picked up the Wizard’s satchel and fished out his notepad. He handed it to Cyrus, who first scanned over the scrawled title on the front cover, which brought about only a slight softening of his scowl. Inside, he flicked through the Wizard’s meticulous and malicious designs, eventually closing the book and passing it to the others. Michelle placed the pots containing the Wizard’s powders into her own bag, and used one to melt through the outer fencing on the corner of the complex’s perimeter.

Inside the canteen hall, the party of now five fought as valiantly as ever, but without Konchu and his protective spells and avian theatrics they found the numbers difficult to overcome. The mage, the giant, and the bounty hunter did their part, but eventually perished as the second wave of grey suits descended. Dreamer and the Exile fought off the last of them back to back, but as she emptied her blaster into a pair of oncoming assailants, the other remaining trio cut through Truth’s defences and riddled him with bullets. Truth, enraged by his defeat, picked up a nearby discarded weapon and emptied it into his killers. He fell to his knees, blood gushing from the fresh wounds in his stomach.

Michelle watched as the life drained away from Cyrus and felt her frustrations overcoming her.

Seriously?!” she let out. These guys?! We killed all of them last time!”

“‘Last time?” Truth repeated. He glanced at her with a puzzled expression, before falling forward onto his stomach.

Wait for the click.





“You ready to go?”

An old, sad song played on the radio. Michelle stood up from her rocking chair and suppressed the urge to throw the nearest living thing - which happened to be Cyrus Truth, or rather a version of him that didn’t really exist at all - through the small window that looked out over the Louisiana morning. Instead, she caught Cyrus up, travelled to the warehouse, contacted Uncle for air support, and once again instructed Truth to assemble whatever team he could for another raid of the warehouse.

This time, upon arrival at the port, she kept Konchu alive for the battle in the canteen hall. She correctly concluded that Hao would require the skillset of the Exile’s team to overcome Legion’s numbers, and would therefore wait until after the skirmish for his ambush. The mage, the giant, and the bounty hunter died their valiant deaths. And then, after the final grey suit fell, Dreamer emptied the last of her chiral blaster’s contents into the Mad Wizard as he reached for the fallen mage’s spear.

“Then we go on,” Cyrus said, after Michelle had shown him the conveniently damning evidence in the Wizard’s satchel.

“On to where?” Michelle asked.

“It’s close,” the other answered. “Can’t you feel it? Breathe. Slowly.”

Michelle tried to remain still. She followed his instructions. Closed her eyes. Forgot where she was. She could feel it. A strong, close hum of chirality. As she breathed in, she felt the strength of it roaring through her.

“Upstairs,” she said, suddenly feeling uncharacteristically certain. Truth nodded his head in agreement.

At the top of a narrow set of steps was one single, low-ceilinged room. It was another disused laboratory, but this one didn’t feel quite so stagnant as the others. It was here. She knew that: she could feel the thing’s power, and sensed the field running through the Exile, too. He was agitated. Perhaps even excited. And his focus was honed in on a figure at the far end of the lab, his back turned to the pair of newcomers.

“I imagine it took you a long time to reach this point,” the figure said. His voice was familiar. Known.

“You have no idea,” Dreamer quipped.

“It took me a lot longer,” he continued. “But such distinctions are unnecessary. Everything, Everywhere, Everyone, after all. There is no line between you and I. We are Legion.”

“We’re not here for the sermon, Devin,” Truth said. The figure, dressed in a grey suit and holding a long, ivory cane, turned around to face them. He had a vacant, distant look on his face, which was dominated by his unsettling and insincere smile. “We’re here for the Tentacle.”

“You know how it is,” the Legion’s head replied, “You’re going to have to take it from me.”

“As you wish,” the Exile answered. “But it will be just you and I. I don’t need help, and I mean for you to fall by my hand.”

To strengthen your claim to the Tentacle, Dreamer thought, suspiciously. But still, when Truth glanced at her, she nodded her affirmation. And she felt as though she owed it to the Exile to let him confront this demon - a guardian at the end of a very long and very winding road - alone.

As the pair circled around the lab, Michelle watched on and gripped the shaft of the mage’s spear. The Legion’s head walked right past her with his back turned, caught up in the posturing before his oncoming battle with Cyrus. It would be simple, she thought, to drive the head of the spear between his shoulder blades, but she stayed true to her word. Truth rushed towards the grey suit, attempting to pick his leg and force him off his feet. The other skilfully evaded to his left, and struck Truth hard across the back with his ivory cane. Then, from out of his inside jacket pocket, the Legion’s head produced a chiral blaster, which he proceeded to use to create a crater in the Exile’s chest.

Truth fell down to his knees and, with his opponent looming above him, inspected the cavernous wound.

“So, this is how it ends,” Cyrus said.

“Knew it.”

Click.





“You ready to go?”

An old, sad song played on the radio. Michelle sat on her rocking chair, the creaks louder and more obnoxious than ever. She shook her head, and let out a tired and unsatisfied sigh.

Two hours later, Cyrus and the Legion's head circled the second floor laboratory again, but this time Michelle suffered no hesitations. The Exile's honour and self-righteousness that had rubbed off on her was only temporary, it seemed. She gripped the shaft of the fallen mage's spear and planted it between the grey suit's shoulder blades. The head bit deep, and he let out a low, guttural scream that seemed to go on forever as he fell to his knees.

"You were meant to leave him to me," Cyrus said, as he loomed above the ringleader. He was still breathing, but the spear had gone all the way through his torso, and his code was gathering in a puddle of blood and zeroes and ones.

"You can finish him, if you'd like to," Michelle said, with a shrug. The Exile grasped the shaft of the spear and pulled it out of their foe, who wheezed only once before collapsing flat on his face.

"It's here," Cyrus said. She followed him to a large chest in the corner of the room. The Exile fiddled with the padlock, eventually managing to claw it open. Inside was the Shadow Tentacle: the deepest black of midnight onyx. Dreamer reached out and picked it up by its base. She felt the roar of the artefact's chirality coursing through her. Under her touch, the item seemed blacker than ever, and throbbed with a weightiness that she found unbearable.

When Truth grasped the other end of the object, it appeared as if carved out of white stone, and felt suddenly lighter and more fragile. It was two entirely separate things to each of those holding it, a physical manifestation of the gulf between them, though both knew it inexplicably tied them together.

She looked into Cyrus' eyes. They were tired.

The silence was punctured by the buzz of her phone. She left the Exile with the artefact, which he placed back into its crate and carefully locked away again. She answered the call and was patched through to the hovering Octopi with the push of a button. She arranged the extraction for the roof, which the two accessed by an emergency ladder on the side of the building. Thomas and the Maid were already waiting for them in Octo-Pods. West was sure to collect the Tentacle's crate from Cyrus before climbing into his vessel with Dreamer.

On the short journey back to the Octopi, Michelle closed her eyes and thought of nothing. Thomas allowed her to rest. She'd been sharing the involuntary company of Cyrus Truth for what felt like days, and hoped a final, conclusive re-set awaited her, one that would remove her from his Shadow. She'd walked in it too often, both in here and out there, and she yearned for the sunlight.

"A successful adventure, all in," Uncle said, as he began to enter a sequence upon his interface that would release them from their holding pattern above New Orleans. Michelle, still exhausted, reclined on one of the pink couches beneath the ship's window. Cyrus looked out of place as he lingered next to the bridge's doors.

"A successful adventure," Michelle repeated. She felt sleep coming for her. She hoped for its release, but had this dream snatched away from her by the peculiar sight of Harry and Quiet entering the bridge.

Obviously, such a sight wouldn't usually be deemed peculiar. Harry and Quiet's natural place is, after all, aboard the Octopi, at the side of their beloved Uncle and the rest of the Nephews. This instance of their arrival, however, was strange because of the attire in which the young wizard and masked man were dressed. Gone were the familiar pink tracksuits of the Nephews. Instead, Harry and Quiet were dressed in identical (except for their size) grey suits, though both wore a pink tie. This differentiated them from the members of Legion Michelle had met already, as befitting their status as principal Nephews.

Dreamer didn't have time to piece things together before the two newcomers in the scene removed blasters from their inside jacket pockets. She was defenceless as they lowered them upon her and emptied their chambers into her gut and her chest. She was thrown to the ground, and moments later Uncle was crouched over her.

"You're Legion," she said. It was a statement, not a question.

"Of course!" Uncle said, with a broad smile. "Everything, Everywhere, Everyone... Devin Golden for a time, maybe, but this has been the way of the Nephews both before and after Golden stumbled on this gimmick.”

"Why me, and not him?" Michelle asked. She nodded towards Truth as her guts spilled out of her stomach. "I'm a Nephew."

"He's a Nephew too," Uncle replied, with a wink. "O.G."

"You're teaching me a lesson," Michelle mused. Thought was difficult whilst hanging on by a thread. "A lesson about trust."

"A lesson Truth never learned," Uncle said.

"I'm dying, I think," Michelle replied, whilst inspecting the wound. "I guess it doesn't matter, though. This is just a simulation."

"Afraid not, Dreamer," Uncle said. "When you die in the simulation, you die for real."

Michelle said nothing for a moment. She only narrowed her eyes.

"I don't believe you," she said, finally.

"Am I that transparent?" Uncle queried, with a playful grin. Michelle felt the emptiness gathering in her stomach and reaching for her heart.

"I guess I'll see you back out there," Michelle said.

"No you won't," Uncle reminded her. "That's not me."

Another click. And then, unexpectedly, a second one. The kaleidoscope shifted again.





The bright lights of the room were jarring at first, and Michelle's eyes struggled to adjust. All that she could comprehend was the heavy, repetitive whirring noise made by the machine on which she was seated. Her hands were sweating inside the yellow marigold gloves, and she took these off before doing the same with the helmet. Uncle took the items from her and set them down in their places.

"So?" he asked her, with a beaming smile on his face. His tentacles bristled happily. "What did you think?"

"Cyrus kept dying because he has nobody to watch his back," Michelle surmised, when the power of speech returned to her. "Just like he keeps losing out here. He is alone, and misguided by his sense of honour and of respect. He claims to walk in the Shadows, but he is guided only by the light. The knives are drawn when his back is turned, and nobody is there to warn him."

"Very good!" Uncle exclaimed, whilst clasping his hands together excitedly. "But you, Dreamer, are a Nephew! This is your advantage. No matter how many times you're compelled to dance with old Cyrus, you'll always have us in your corner."

Uncle prepared himself to leave. Michelle, meanwhile, was left contemplating the COSMIC HORROR's pledge of fraternity. She didn't rise from her seat, instead indulging in ponderous contemplation of his last words.

"Come on, I've some errands to run before our Valentine's Day date," Uncle said.

"If the Nephews are forever," Michelle began, still in situ upon the machine's seat. "Then why would you program a simulation to ultimately reinforce that I can't trust anyone?"

"I told you already that Thomas programmed the simulation,” Uncle replied, with a shrug. "And, in a cosmic sense, he is quite right. Ultimately, we are all left alone. I'll congratulate him on this fine metaphor the next time I see him."

Somewhat reluctant to leave the comfort of the machine and venture out into the world outside of this room, Michelle finally pushed herself up onto her feet. Uncle held the door open for her.

"I want flowers," she said, as she passed him. "For Valentine's Day. Something unique."
 

Cyrus Truth

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Exile Chronicles (Volume 5)
Chapter 15: Respect and Attention

As a former Observer, and being one of the more prolific denizens of the world of shadows, Cyrus Truth has visited a lot of the best and worst places on the planet.

Though as of late? With his reputation rebuilt and his connections restored after being blacklisted during the Observer-Church of 9 Crisis, it seems that The Exile has, when not touring with FWA, been spending far more time in the darker, more wretched hives and barrows that exist just beyond the perception of those who live in the light of the dawn.

Regardless, it’s a rarity hearing Cyrus bitch about it. The Exile has long resided in this world, and to survive with the kind of knowledge that he has about its workings? There really wasn’t any way to operate without getting your hands and face dirty.

So Cyrus would meet with criminal operators in dingy taverns and brothels. Abandoned office buildings and warehouses became his boardrooms. And when dealing with those who dabble in the darker, deeper mysteries of the world? Well, let’s just say that it’s a good thing Cyrus has friends like Konchu Hao to help him navigate that awful, AWFUL circle of influence.

However…

Every back alley gin joint, drug-peddling hovel, and sketchy rattrap seems like a pleasant vacation compared to where Cyrus finds himself here in Tokyo.

Sitting in a box seat, thankfully away from the thousands of glow-stick carrying, overly stimulated Japanese teens and, from what little Cyrus can see, at least a handful of excessively sweaty middle-aged salarymen, The Exile grimaces and winces as the absolute most bubblegum, corporate shill-worthy J-Pop music is blaring.


“I swear to every god dead, alive, and yet to be…if Saito hasn’t come through on his end, I’m going to tear apart his entire organization for forcing me to meet him here…”

Verbalizing his annoyance that threatens to boil over into rage doesn’t really help drown out the music. Cyrus himself isn’t much of a music aficionado; he listens to music, sure. But considering his taste in music varies wildly between driving modern rock and metal music and what can best be described as rare violin samplings from between the 16th and 17th century, The Exile is hardly one to judge another’s own tastes.
However…

THIS music, this peppy drivel that has maybe the most simplistic rhythm that could possibly be mass distributed, absolutely grates on Cyrus’s last nerve. Even that could POTENTIALLY be forgiven if not for the fact that the idol singing, a late-teens or early twenties girl in what can only be described as some kind of sailor scout uniform that has WAY too many neo-fluorescent frills and accents, wasn’t singing the most repetitive, most unimaginably uninspired lyrics ever committed to the world history of songwriting and singing.

If Cyrus believed in Hell, he’d be hard pressed to believe it could be any worse than here.

And as this pop idol continues her banal, cookie-cutter song that, honestly, sounds an awful lot like the last three songs she’s performed, Cyrus can’t help but try and tune it out with his thoughts…although the volume of the vapid fanbase cheering and the music makes it difficult to do so.

Still, he should be somewhere else.

Somewhere getting his mind and body ready for the finals of the F1 Climaxxx.

Preparing himself…to fight HER again.

Cyrus grimaces. He hadn’t anticipated being able to quiet the J-pop considering how loud, repetitive, and obnoxious it was to listen to, but hate and disgust are powerful emotions. And try as he might, he can’t seem to get over the absolute fury he has towards the woman who stands between him and what he’s worked so damn hard for over the past three…no, nearly five years now?

Michelle von Horrowitz. The Dreamer who has persisted as a recurring nightmare for The Exile ever since the last time they’ve crossed paths. While Cyrus has been able to get the better of her in their most recent contests, those were tag team challenges. One-on-one? Dreamer has all but always been able to skate past Cyrus’s onslaught to grab victory.

And how did she do this? Duplicity. Trickery. Deceit. People can claim that Cyrus should probably stop harping on those facts, but to ignore the Truth? That’s something that Cyrus can’t do. Would never do.

And in the end, what has her actions earned her?

Two World Title reigns that together barely exceed the number of days that Cyrus had on his third FWA World Title run. And a tag team partnership that is fraying at the seams, obvious enough to anybody with eyes.

The thought that such an individual, such a contemptible competitor has been able to survive having to fight Cyrus and come out on top time and again continues to drive Cyrus’s fury. Even worse when her greatest accomplishments before and after doing so were as fleeting as candle flame in the middle of a hurricane.

Why is she still here? And why does ANYBODY give her the time of day? Because she’s a tag team champion being carried by a simpering fool who doesn’t understand what a psychological vampire Michelle von Horrowitz has been on him since the two were paired up many months ago? She is an intellectual that never says anything profound, a woman with a refined tone and vocabulary that engages in skullduggery and traipses around with a collection of misfits who enable her underhanded means and methods.

Her existence continues to grate on Cyrus’s patience and turns it into a simmering rage, made even more profound by the fact that Cyrus, a man who prides himself on being able to see through damn near everybody he comes across, knowing what makes them tick and what drives them…

…Cyrus STILL hasn’t figured out Michelle von Horrowitz.

And beneath all the anger at having to fight Dreamer again, knowing full well that she has cheated her way to victory throughout the Climaxxx and will continue to do so for another title opportunity she will squander and waste, there is that small part of The Exile that would prefer to ignore it, but can’t.

That fear that if he can’t figure out Michelle in time, he will lose. And not only lose again to a wrestler he will never respect or tolerate, but will lose any hope of ever getting a proper shot at the World Title ever again.

There’s only so much struggling someone can do before fools and moneymen decide that you’re no longer worth investing in.


“Truth! Apologies for being late, my friend. One of my other meetings went a little over time and…”

Cyrus’s internal grappling with the task that awaits him at Back in Town quickly gets pushed back as the awful, awful J-pop once again burrows into his mind much to his persistent irritation. He turns to the source of the voice as a middle-aged, reed-thin Japanese man wearing a very simple, inexpensive black suit, white shirt, and thin black tie. Despite looking like your average salaryman, this man carries himself like a big-time executive…or perhaps, more like a king hiding in plain sight.

Although that might have more to do with the musclebound twins right behind him, dressed in similar suits that are a size or two too small that serve to accentuate their muscle mass. Both of them are wearing sunglasses despite being inside at night, and their shaved heads precipitate with tiny beads of sweat.

Cyrus stands up from his box seat and turns to face the thin man, arms crossed and looking incredibly pissed off.


“Yeah, save it, Saito. I don’t give a shit what your excuse is. My only concern is whether or not you have what I came here for.”

Speaking in English without even the hint of an accent, Saito simply shrugs as he has a seat, motioning for Cyrus to join him. Cyrus, still riled up because of that stupid music and that idol continuing to drone over and over again in his head, reluctantly has a seat next to Saito.

“What’s the matter, Truth? Are you not enjoying the show?”

“I’d rather have needles permanently stuck in my temples than have to endure this travesty to music and good taste. Now, do you have the item, or not?”


Saito clicks his tongue, almost dismissively. However, he does snap his fingers as one of the bald bodyguards produces a long storage case and hands it over to his boss. Saito, pulling it onto his lap, manipulates the combination lock and eventually opens it, showing the contents to Cyrus.

Inside the case is a gnarled, twisted looking cane. It looks to have been made of a single piece of wood, either a piece of driftwood that had washed up to shore, or perhaps some kind of knotty tree branch or root. Cyrus inspects it as Saito explains:


“A cane belonging to an advisor that served under Sakanoue no Tamuramaro, one of the first of the shogun. While there’s few stories about this particular advisor, and his name has been lost to history, there are still a few legends about his particular exploits. Some say he possessed mystical powers granted to him by the kami. Others say he communed with the yokai and was a dark mage of terrible power.

“But if I’m being honest, Truth? I didn’t expect you to be interested in such things. You never were one to dabble deeply in the magical arts.”

“I’m not. But it’s an artifact of some renown, and learning the true history of the world and preserving it is still of some importance to me. And if nothing else, it’s a valuable bargaining chip in the right circles.”

“I suppose. And I did owe you a debt for helping me with a few…troublemakers some time back, and I do pay my debts. I trust this squares us?”


Cyrus nods as Saito closes the case and hands it over to The Exile. Cyrus sighs, finally achieving a modicum of satisfaction after having to endure this torture session disguised as a concert, moves to stand up. However…

“Truth, where are you going? Aren’t you going to stay for the rest of the concert?”

The way Saito says that, and the way his guards move as if to intercept Cyrus before he can leave…well, it’s clear that it was less a question and more of an insistence from Saito. Not exactly pleased with this clear power move from Saito, The Exile looks at his business partner with an unamused glare.

“Our business is concluded. Your debt is paid, and I’ve been more than patient with having to endure your choice of meeting location. I have other things to do, Saito. Better things to do than having my eardrums and my psyche permanently scarred by this cacophony masquerading as music.”

“Hehehe…you’re awfully judgmental, Truth. Shirohana Akumi is one of the biggest acts on the pop scene here in Japan. Honestly, you should be rather grateful I went out of my way to get you such good seats. Do you have any idea how expensive these are?”

“Spare me the bullshit. You think I don’t know that you’re one of the primary sponsors of this act?”


Saito chuckles at that as he again motions for Cyrus to have a seat. And while Cyrus could probably force his way out, making a scene even with all the distractions and awful music wouldn’t be in either his or Saito’s best interests to start anything like that.

In his already frazzled mind, Cyrus sees no other option besides sucking it up and acquiescing.

He returns to his seat, making sure that the case containing the wooden cane is close at hand as he grimaces. Shirohana is beginning a new song, which sounds all too similar to the last one to The Exile, just with a slightly different but still banal tune.


“Out of all the things you could have invested in, why this?”

“Would you have suspected that a Japanese pop idol act would be a front for moving money surreptitiously between different shadow entities? Not all of us can rely simply on our word and our connections like you, Truth.”

“I get that, but why THIS? You can’t sit there and tell me that you couldn’t have chosen something that was less offensive to music, art, and just general respectability.”


Saito looks bemused by Cyrus’s summation of his investment’s musical act…but there’s a knowing smile laced in with that expression. He snaps his fingers as one of his bodyguards produces a bottle of what looks to be an incredibly expensive sake and two small cups. The second bodyguard pours two drinks and hands the cups to Cyrus and Saito. As the businessman takes a sip, he simply shrugs.

“Oh, you’re not the first person to make that observation. And it’s not without merit. On her own, she’d probably already be washed up and forgotten about, especially in the cutthroat world of idols. But you’d be surprised what a good marketing team and publicity machine can do.”

Cyrus slams his sake, caring little for putting up appearances. Without even asking, the bodyguard holding the bottle refills his cup as The Exile looks over to Saito, who has a very smarmy smile on his face.

“Still…there are likely dozens, if not hundreds of more talented singers, dancers, and performers out there. Any one of them would have sufficed for your needs, and the world would’ve been better for it.”

“Perhaps.”

“So why her? Why do you persist on putting someone in this position who’s clearly not talented, obviously not willing to put in the work to get better, and is allowed to be deluded by the hype machine that you’ve built into believing that she’s far more talented than she is?”

“Oh, she’s aware.”


That simple statement breaks through the layers of agitation that have been building up in Cyrus’s mind for some time as he looks confused at Saito. Saito simply smirks as he finishes his own drink with a few subtle sips before his bodyguard refills his cup.

“‘Aware?’”

“Yes. Fully aware. Shirohana…or Keiko, if you prefer…is not deluded into thinking she’s some great singer.”

“Wait. I don’t understand.”

“A rarity! I probably shouldn't enjoy that as much as I should, but…”

“Shut up. That doesn’t make any sense, Saito. You’re telling me that a singer knows that she’s not good at it, and yet still continues to perform regardless? And she doesn’t bother to get any better?”

“Why should she? What incentive does Keiko have to change anything? Look, Truth.”


Saito motions out to the sea of humanity surrounding the stage where Shirohana…Keiko is singing yet another monotonous, uninspired song to an equally insipid melody. And yet, the crowd is roaring and hanging on every goddamn verse for some reason. It makes no sense to Cyrus as Saito continues.

“Keiko, thanks to me and a very dedicated group of fans who sing her praises and defend her from her detractors both in real life and on social media, has all the attention and fame she could want. The music doesn’t matter, the lyrics and her performances are irrelevant. People just want to see what Shirohana is doing, want to get close to her, want to be a part of the story. Keiko understands this. In fact, it’s all she wants.”

Cyrus’s expression looks somewhere between enraged, confused, and disgusted. It takes everything he has not to stand up and throttle someone.

Cyrus is a great many things. But above all else, he is a prideful son of a bitch. It’s that pride that continues to drive him, push him towards becoming something more than just another wanderer, just another wrestler to be dismissed and forgotten about. Even at his absolute lowest, pride is what has allowed him to keep fighting, to get to the point where he’s but one win, one opponent away from a proper shot at the World Championship, and he has never once given up on finding his strength, honing his skill.

So to hear that this…this pretender not only recognizes her failures, but refuses to either acknowledge them or correct them…


“How can she live with herself?”

Saito cocks an eyebrow at that.

“How can she live with the fact everything that should define her is nothing but a bunch of lies, smoke, and mirrors? To live a life and pursue a career where there’s no respect, no pride? It’s…”

“Hahaha!”

Saito’s laugh is a bit louder and more pronounced than Cyrus was expecting. Saito takes another sip from his cup as he simply shrugs.

“‘Respect?’ Respect is an illusion, Truth. Keiko understands this. When you have this kind of following, when you have a team behind you willing to do whatever you need them to in order to make sure your image is secure and you achieve whatever fame or fortune you want, who cares about how you get it? Why bother changing or…’improving?’ She has everything she could ever want. A successful career, thousands if not millions of adoring fans who’ll hang on every word, every action of hers. That’s all she wants. All she needs. Your…sensibilities might have a problem with that, but for a young girl like her, a diva with a complex and an insatiable appetite for attention…I’ve given her that. As has her team. Nothing else matters.”

The world just…sort of goes away from The Exile. Whether that’s due to some kind of mental shock or just his absolute fury drowning out the awful music and sheepish adulation of a mindless crowd, it’s hard to say.

But as the arena, the crowds, Keiko, Saito…everything just sort of fades away, Cyrus continues to boil and simmer, disgusted by how someone could simply walk through life without wanting to better themselves and simply be content with mindless, fleeting adulation.

However…

There’s an old Observer saying that the Truth has a funny way of revealing itself when you least expect it, in places you wouldn’t think would have any.

And past the anger Cyrus feels towards this supposed idol and her lack of pride and desire for real respect, his mind shifts back to Michelle von Horrowitz.

The two women couldn’t be any more different from one another…at least, on the surface.

Keiko is bright, flashy, and absolutely awful at even the barest minimum of being a performer.

Michelle is melodramatic, verbose, and…as much as Cyrus hates to admit it…a very talented wrestler.

But…Truth be told? They aren’t that different from one another, deep down.

For everything that Michelle has accomplished, every championship she’s won and will likely win before all is said and done…ultimately, how will she be remembered? As a legend who rose to the challenge, who commanded the respect of her peers and struck fear into the hearts of her opposition?

No…because respect wasn’t something that Michelle cared for.

She didn’t command respect. She simply demanded attention. Like a toddler demanding a treat without having to do anything to earn it, everything that Michelle has done and continues to do is to force people to listen to her, even when she has nothing important or profound to say. Forced to watch her, even when what she does matters little and is due more to that gaggle of fools and rejects that hang off her like ticks on a deer.

Every victory she’s had in the F1 Climaxxx was due in part to her own willingness to cheat her way to victory, or due to the Nephews enabling her to shortcut her way to victory. She even managed to outcheat Bryan Baxter, another fool who hasn’t been able to step back and look at how he’s won and instead simply focuses on the victories themselves.

Titles and won matches may garner attention and notoriety, but anybody that tells you that history won’t remember how you won is a liar. The world always remembers. And it doesn’t even take an Observer to record it for posterity.

That is Michelle’s weakness. That lack of understanding, or dismissal of the consequences of pursuing attention at the expense of one’s dignity and respectability.

Because when you face someone who’s fully aware of what depths you’re willing to stoop to in order to keep people talking about you…when you’re facing someone who’s been hardened by strife, honed on the anvil of the struggle…your fragile iron will shatter against true steel.


“Hahahaha…”

Saito is a bit perturbed as Cyrus starts to laugh. It’s not the laugh of a lunatic, nor is it particularly amusing. It’s as if that laugh is more of a release for The Exile, allowing him to let go of something that’s been troubling him for some time.

Cyrus stands up and grabs the case as Shirohana plays another awful, repetitive melody. But surprising, the annoyance is gone from Cyrus. That droning tune doesn’t seem to be there anymore. It’s been replaced with a focus that hasn’t been there for some time. The noise in his mind seems to have been quieted, muted.

With a crack of his knuckles and a small smile on his face, he turns to face Saito.


“I really should thank you, Saito. And I don’t just mean for the artifact. This evening has proven incredibly enlightening. But I do need to be going…”

As he turns to leave, both of the twins step out in front of him. Without turning to face The Exile, Saito simply says in a grim tone:

“The show’s not over, Truth.”

“It is for me.”

“You should stay.”

“Are you going to stop me?”


Cyrus may as well have hit Saito in the head with a hammer. It would’ve landed a lot more gently and with more compassion than the way he dropped those last six words. However, there’s no malice in Cyrus’s tone. Just a…confidence. An aura of certainty that hasn’t been there in some time.

Cliched though it may be? Truth can set you free.

Saito, feeling the weight of The Exile’s words and his intentions to not acquiesce to his insistence, tries once again to get Cyrus to do as he wants.


“Truth, it’s considered rude to deny your host in such a way. Do you really want…”

“Are you…going to…stop me?”


Saito is stunned into silence. Even the brickhouse twins are a bit leery, showing the first sign of any emotion as both of them look at one another with what can best be described as an attempt to mask concern with professional stoicism.

At that moment, Saito realizes that he may have been mistaken when he said that respect was an illusion.

Because he knows full well that Cyrus Truth is committed to heading off to the next stage of his journey. And there’s not a damn thing he can do to stop him.

Saito waves his hand, wordlessly telling the twins to step aside. And they are all too quick to obey.

Cyrus snickers at that and steps past the two meatheads. But before leaving the luxury box, he stops and says:


“I hope Shirohana or Keiko or whoever she is has been enjoying this attention. Because we both know it won’t survive under the microscope of scrutiny that is history. And when all the gimmicks and all the underhanded, backroom dealings are gone and all that’s left is her…I wonder. What will happen to her when she has to confront reality?

"My guess? She'll crumble under it. Pleading for the attention she's become addicted to, with nothing of real substance to show for it.


“Best of luck with that, Saito. Pleasure as always to do business with you.”

Cyrus takes his leave. Nothing more said. Nothing more needed to be said.

Saito, as soon as Cyrus is gone and out of sight, looks down towards where Shirohana is finishing up her last couple of songs before the big finale, with sparklers and fireworks and all the distractions. The confidence, the smarmy attitude is gone.

Angrily, he tosses the sake cup against the wall, shattering it.

And sits there, stewing…


*********

It’s Back in Town, and we find ourselves deep within the Ball Arena. We appear to be on the opposite side of the gorilla position, away from the eyes of the crowd in attendance for tonight’s major PPV event.

Here, in this arena, there’s a separate room not too far away from the curtain leading out to the ring, set up as a sort of waiting area for wrestlers if they choose to use it. Sort of a space that’s a bit quieter, allowing wrestlers to collect their thoughts before their match.

Cyrus Truth is taking full advantage of it, sitting on a bench with a pair of headphones over his ears. The music is a strong, driving violin, a symphony that uses the instrument’s full capabilities to weave a song that stirs the souls and makes the heart pulse with purpose and conviction.

Cyrus is about to compete in one of the biggest matches he’s had in several years, against an opponent he’s lost to more than he’s won against. A wrestler who’s proven time and again that there were no depths she wasn’t willing to delve to in order to achieve the attention she desperately craves, even if she’s too self-absorbed and too far up her own ass to truly understand it.

Many other wrestlers would be chomping at the bit like a rabid dog, hoping to exact some measure of revenge or balance to the scales.

Others would be afraid.

Cyrus Truth is neither.

The weight of this match isn’t lost on Cyrus…but it’s not been compounded by feelings of fear, anger, or despair.

Why should he be afraid? He’s beaten Michelle von Horrowitz before, hasn’t he? And he knows full well he can do it again…here, when it matters the most.

And anger? Pointless. Why should he waste rage at a wrestler who has abandoned any semblance of respect and decency to embrace fleeting attention and notoriety?

For the first time in years, Cyrus has found his balance. His focus. His resolve, untainted by base and energy-consuming dark emotions.

Cyrus has managed to make it to the finals of the F1 Climaxxx. Even when it appeared that he would be denied? Fortune, fate, and his own determination have managed to get him to this one moment. One match, to secure the World Title shot.
No gimmick. No excuses. No more hoops to jump through. All he has to do is win. Smash Michelle von Horrowitz, drop her on her head, and leave her in the dustbin of history.

Michelle can fight like hell if she wants. But she doesn’t want this as bad as The Exile.

She can try to cheat a win out like she has throughout the Climaxxx. But Cyrus will deny her that opportunity.

If those dumbass Nephews decide they want to get involved? Cyrus will crush them as well, and toss them out like yesterday’s trash.

This is it. The moment. The absolute last bend in the Long and Winding Road. Navigate this, endure this…and Cyrus will have gained what he’s longed to have for so long.

To hell with Dreamer. To hell with the record, to hell with everything that’s served to be a distraction.

Cyrus Truth is going to beat Michelle von Horrowitz. Going to crush her, demolish her not because of hate or some foolish pursuit of revenge. But because he can. Because he has to. Because this is it. The moment to put up or shut up. There are no second chances. Nothing else matters except for the time between bell rings. Journey’s End, the Long Road to Nowhere…hell, seventeen suplexes if that’s what it takes.

All that matters is winning, and showing Michelle, FWA, and whoever hold the World Title after tonight’s main event the difference between one who’ll suffer greatly to command respect, and one who’ll coast on attention.

Cyrus chuckles a bit.

He almost feels sorry for Michelle.

Almost.

But then again, she chose to spend her days indulging in meaningless skits and pointless drivel. Chose to take the easy path to win her fights to get to the finals of the F1 Climaxxx.

Michelle von Horrowitz has done such a splendid job of digging her own grave, and etching an epitaph of a life and career spent demanding attention while proving time and again she was unworthy of it onto the tombstone that is FWA history.

It’d be awfully rude of Cyrus to deny her the chance to lie in that grave, wouldn’t it?

There’s a knock at the door. A stagehand is letting Cyrus know that his match is up next and the sound production team is cueing up his entrance theme. One that The Exile might well have outgrown, and would likely need to change. But that’s a concern for another time.

Cyrus stands up and slides off his headphones. The violin doesn’t stop playing, and as he walks to the door…we see on the tablet that they were connected to the name of the track Cyrus was listening to.


“King’s Gambit.”

The Exile. The Wayward Warrior. The Once Crowned, and Vagabond King. Cyrus Truth opens the door.

Heading out to battle.

To blood and war.

To the obstacle that would deny him from achieving what he’s worked so hard for.

Cyrus Truth, for the first time in years, is ready. Unquestionably ready. Focused, driven, and devoted.

The Exile walks towards gorilla. To begin the march towards victory.

Cyrus exits the waiting room. Closing the door behind him…
 

TheProdigy

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Time to get back to work

Downtown Toronto
January 2023.

He plants the sole of his bare foot on the cold granite floor, sending a jolt through his body that raises him from the hazy stupor that he had found himself in. Not for the first time. Not for the first time this week. Not for the first time today. ‘How would you cope when it is over?’ he would always have been asked by his friends, family or the worlds media on occasion. His answer was one that was drilled into him from a young age, before media training was a thing, and that was to downplay it. It is what it is. Can’t control what you can’t control. The advice, in general, is to just pivot to a question that you think you can answer even if that particular questions wasn’t one that ended up be asked. The great thing right now is that the question isn’t being asked of him anymore, after all, he stepped out of the spotlight without so much as a throwaway remark. The unfortunate thing now is that he has the answer to that question, and the answer isn’t a pretty one.

The answer is the ever-expanding waist size, the out of place and disheveled hair, the unmaintained beard, bloodshot red eyes and bottle or bottles in his hand at any given hour of the day, just to feel something for a short time before falling back into that stupor that he had just jolted himself out of moments before. He rubs his eyes, bleary, and becomes aware of the dull vibration of his phone on the coffee table across the room.

“Jesus wept”

He mutters to himself as his places his other foot on the floor and begins to tread across to the source of the vibration. He tweaks his wrist and his smart watch briefly displays the time to him.
18:45
Tuesday January 3 2023

He lets out a deep exhale, knowing now before finding the phone exactly who the source of the vibration is indeed, and it isn’t going to be a pleasant conversation. Not unless he can magic himself to Massey Hall 30 minutes ago. He used to be good but never would’ve been that good.

“What”

Not a greeting that would win you many awards in the customer service industry, admittedly, but this was a call to inquire about a service that he agreed to provide.

“Give me 45 minutes, push it to later in the show.”

He slams the phone back on the coffee table, hanging up at some point the process, before marauding his way over to the bathroom. He turns the cold water tap on, closes his eyes and breathes deeply, trying to get himself mentally in a place to leave his apartment. One more deep breath and he looks dead in front to the mirror, fractured. In between the fractures in the glass, you can see that he doesn’t look good. There is pale and pasty complexion that you would never have caught off of him in his prime, with a yellow-ish tinge that would be indicative of the wars that he has been putting his body through since he stepped away, ironic considering the rigors that he would’ve put himself through in his line of business should’ve been what was responsible for his physical decline. A splash of cold water doesn’t quite have the refreshing effect he would’ve hoped for – although with what he was expecting it to do by way of refreshment it was probably the prudent move to have sourced some holy water in the interim – alas, there was nothing else for it. Time to reintroduce himself to the small assembly of people gathered downtown at Massey Hall. Two months after saying goodbye without so much as a peep, time for Mike Parr to say hello.

Massey Hall
Toronto, Ontario
45 minutes later

“Merlin’s ghost Mike, who did this to you?”

Tom Ayling, the general manager of Massey Hall with a concerned greeting as he walks into Mike’s dressing room and casts his eyes upon his star booking for the evening. Whilst the aforementioned yellow tinge had given way, somewhat, to red as a consequence of the blistering temperature outside, it’s safe to say that this wasn’t the Mike Parr that Massey Hall had paid money for. This was barely Mike Parr at all, truth be told. Mike, lacing up his boots with a degree of difficulty, doesn’t acknowledge the comment from Tom but moves on with what he was likely about to ask anyways.

“So, you need me to go 5 minutes, exhibition, a few spots and home?”

There is a hesitance, a little squeak from Tom that is neither confirmation or a denial of the summary although you would imagine that it doesn’t sound too promising on that front.

“Well Grady already had opened the show, nobody had told him you weren’t here or ready as expected, so he’s out. We’re going to pair you with Chuck Lawson actually. He’ll go out and get the crowd riled up like he can, he’s pretty green at it all though, but when the right time hits you’ll emerge to shut him up. As promised though, no need for you to speak. He will challenge you to a match, you can nod, and then the ref will ring the bell.”

“Sounds good, Tom.”

Mike couldn’t sound less enthused, but you get the feeling he could’ve just been pitched a hall of fame induction and he would’ve reacted with equal distain.

“Butwewill actually need youtogo 20minutes, not5.”

The words were spoken so fast that they blended together in the main, but the message delivered was clear. That got Mike’s attention. He leant backwards from lacing up his boots, and looked over at Tom with a steely glare. One, to Tom, that was unquestionably petrifying as regardless of his current physical status he would be able to handle an general manager of a venue. A glare, however personally speaking, that was masking the sinking feeling that he just had in his stomach. An unfamiliar one, as the words 20 minutes reverberated around the inside of skull, each bounce added to the newly found self-doubt that Mike is now saddled with. Had he not had a rather pale gaunt expression beforehand, you would’ve seen it coming now. Aware of the need to at least react, Mike starts to slowly nod his head in the affirmative, his glare becoming more vacant and distant by each passing millisecond.

“T-tw-twenty minutes. Gotcha.”

An involuntary stammer when he started to speak was perhaps the only outwardly noticeable sign on the inner trepidation, but Tom seemed satisfied enough not to have his head pulled from his shoulders for suddenly quadrupling the agreed upon workload with no advance notice. Counting his relative blessings, he scurries out of the dressing room and closes the door behind him – the slam of the door couples with a deep exhale from Mike. He rises to his feet, and in a similar vein to an hour beforehand, he stares down himself in the mirror. Again, he slowly begins to nod his head in the affirmative, as he tries to force out the doubt and panic that came over him and replace it with confidence that you would expect from a multi-decade veteran. There is a noticeable tremble as Parr raises his left arm to slide his elbow pad up his forearm.

“Twenty minutes it is…”
Massey Hall
Toronto, Ontario
1 hour later

The crowd are absolutely vociferous, with a loud ‘F**k you Chuck’ chant echoing around the capacity crowd.

“….and there isn’t one single person in this cesspool of a city that can step up to me and tell me that I’m wrong. I’m not. I couldn’t give a single solitary fu-“

Chuck’s diatribe is brought to a close with the interruption from a song all too familiar to the local Toronto wrestling fan, as Adema’s “Giving In” fills Massey Hall. The crowd rise to their feet and eagerly look towards the entrance ramp, where some budget dry ice has started to whisper around. Out onto the ramp steps Mike, who has done a moderate job of making himself look presentable in the intervening time since we last saw him. Wearing a t-shirt to cover one of the telltale signs of his lack of fitness, he raises his arms in the air to the acclaim of the crowd. Parr closes his eyes and listens to the cheers, looking closely enough you can see some goosebumps slowly form on his arms. Whether it’s a combination of the reaction or the upcoming physical exertion, Mike throws his head back and basks in the feeling. A natural high – one that he hasn’t felt in months. Truly, probably not one he has felt in almost a year.

“Making his way to the ring, from Toronto, Ontario…..”

There is the obligatory pause as the natives go wild at the mention of their own city.

“Former FWA North American Champion, “The Prrrrrrrooooooddddddddddiiiigggggggyyyyyyyyyyy”…”

Mike’s head snaps forwards, eyes open, as the ring announcer gives his moniker the type of gusto you would expect for a far grander stage.

“Miiikkkeeee Paaaaarrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr”

Mike shakes his head in the negative, before marching down the rampway and towards the ring. The announcer has slipped out of the ring also, and as the two are about to cross paths, the announcer extends his fist for a bump. Inaudible to the surrounding crowd, who are still cheering loudly, as he returns the bump for the appearance Mike whispers into his ear.

“Don’t call me that again.”

The announcer shakes his head, thinking he has misheard, and looks back bemused into Mike’s eyes, only to see he is likely not mistaken. Mike, for clarity given the look on the announcer’s face, repeats himself.

“I’m not him. Don’t call me him again.”

Unable to prolong the conversation any longer without making it apparent that something was up, Mike gingerly rolls into the ring and raises his arms for the crowd, as Chuck moves forward with the appearance of wanting to front up to Mike.

“Welcome back, collar and elbow to start”

Chuck throws his head around in an exaggerated manner as cover, before backing into his respective corner and awaiting the bell, which duly sounds. Collar and elbow, Mike thought to himself, was an easy introduction back into things. It had been months since he had laced his boots before tonight. Indeed, Chuck approaches and the two tangle.

“Break the hold, slap me in the face.”

Mike’s command is pretty simple, one designed to get more heat on Chuck. After all, you need to build up an opponent to make the win worth it. Chuck breaks the collar and elbow tie-up and slaps Mike across the face, the palm to skin contact even audible over the raucous crowd. Mike stumbled backwards, the ringing in his ears growing louder. Chuck approaches and the ref intervenes and backs him into his corner and Parr staggers back to his own.

“You still good Mike?”

The ringing slowly begins to subside, as Mike comes back around, and gives the ref a nod, pushing himself to his feet with the ring ropes – not even aware of how he ended up off of his feet to begin with. A anxious hush has fallen over the crowd, too smart to think that this was all a sell for a simple slap. Mike shakes his head, although you can see his knee slightly wobble beneath him as he does so.

“Irish whip, duck, leapfrog, clothesline to the outside. Plancha on the outside.”

The referee hesitates slightly but nods, and backs over to Chuck to relay the same. Mike throws his hands in the air as the crowd react accordingly, before he pushes Chuck back and Irish whips him into the ropes. Mike throws himself to the ground before leapfrogging over Chuck. As he pops back gathers his balance and turns around Chuck catches him with a clothesline that sends him sprawling to the outside of the ring. Mike leans against the barricade, getting himself prepared to get in position to catch Chuck on the Plancha over the top. Suddenly, a sharp pain in his abdomen causes him to buckle over slightly, still trying to save face in front of the crowd. He closes his eyes, looks down and screams in agony, his scream thankfully not audible over the noise the crowd is making. In the interim, Chuck has launched himself over the top rope and as Mike looks up he realizes he is slightly out of position. He moves across to try and break his fall and catch him as need be, but his movement isn’t as sharp or as accurate as it needed to be. He semi-catches him, but in the process manages to invert Chuck before both men hit the floor. Parr’s head smacks the concrete, his head again filled with ringing for the second time in a matter of moments. His vision is blurred as it was a couple of hours ago when he was trying to wake himself up, the lights from above are piercing as he tries to get some form of focus back.

“It’s done, stay down. Don’t move.”

A voice penetrates Mike in amongst all the ongoing confusion, he is not totally sure exactly what that is referencing but it sounds like the ref so he is staying down as instructed.

“Going to need medical out here, now. Don’t move, Mike, it’s being looked after.”

Still confused as to exactly what is happening, Mike shuffles around slightly as he senses the presence of a few other bodies nearby. He squints, desperately trying to eradicate the blurred vision issue that has been plaguing him since he hit his head, and as he does so he can just make out Chuck being attended to with a neck brace attached.

“R-ref-refe-ref….REFFF…is he ok?”

Mike, in almost a panic, has pushed himself to a seated position against the side of the ring. The referee looks over and acknowledges having heard the question, but gives him a solemn nod in the negative. The crowd are less of a factor now, but Mike only becomes cognizant of the absolute silence engulfing Massey Hall at this moment. Only the voice of the ring announcer breaks that silence.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, Chuck Lawson is unable to continue. Therefore, you winner by forfeit, The Prodigy Mike Parr.”

There is no gusto this time, the tone of the announcement is pretty reflective of the mood in Massey Hall right now. Mike raises his head up to the sky, and can only thing of one thing as the medical team continue to assist his fallen opponent.

I’m not him anymore.


Toronto Western Hospital
January 14 2023

“Room 14A, sir.”

The attendant at the front desk of the hospital directs Mike towards the ward of a certain Chuck Lawson, 11 days after their match at Massey Hall. The preceding days have not been so kind to Mike, he left the arena immediately after Chuck was carried out and proceeded to slip his way into any bar that would accept his business over the next 10 days. He looks, and smells, just like he had emerged from one of those fine establishments just recently. Those gaunt features of 10 days ago are even more pronounced, as are the bags underneath his eyes. As he reaches 14A, a single tear trickles down his cheek as he peers through the glass window. Perched upright, still in a brace, is Chuck Lawson. Mike bridges the door open, his hand shaking from a combination of withdrawal symptoms and nerves, and throws in a question.

“OK for a visitor?”

What could he say? There weren’t really any words, and if there were, they should’ve been articulated 11 days ago and not after a self pity bender.

“Was wondering when you would show your face.”

Mike nods, sheepishly, in what is very uncharasteric of the Mike that we have grown accustomed to on a national stage. He shuffles his way inside the room to the bedside of Chuck.

“I-I’m….”

Mike tails off, not quite sure how to finish the sentence that we all know is coming without sounding absolutely pathetic in doing so. Lawson gets it too, and decides to interject before it comes to that.

“I don’t need you to be sorry. Sorry doesn’t help me get better any faster, does it?"

“I suppose not, no…”

The sentence, the intended destination of which is less apparent than the previous, similarly tails off again. For someone who was conscious enough to try and not sound so pathetic, he certainly isn’t doing to the greatest job of that.

“It’s my fault.”

Chuck’s admission causes Mike to do a double take, as he looks quizzically at him. How could he have come to that conclusion? Mike was clearly not in an appropriate state to wrestle, and he botched it so badly that it landed him in hospital with serious injuries. The guy who got injured then is stating that it’s his fault?

“I knew something wasn’t right and I didn’t say anything.”

Chuck again speaks, as Mike takes a breath as if he is having some sort of out of body experience. Chuck is saying exactly what Mike was thinking about himself.

“I heard what you said to the ring announcer. I should’ve known better. I knew the fact that you were even taking the booking meant something wasn’t right, the way in which you just left the FWA in the lurch. I knew in my heart it wasn’t good. But I wanted…I wanted the rub. I wanted the chance to wrestle Mike Parr in Toronto…..do you know how many people actually have the opportunity to do that? Despite everything telling me something was wrong, I pursued because it was worth it. I probably didn’t entirely anticipate the exact cost of pursuing it mind….”

“What are they saying?”

“I can move my legs again. I can lift my arms, but it’s really day by day to see if I keep improving. Did some serious damage to my neck but compared to a week ago it’s looking better than then. We were worried then that I wouldn’t…..”

This time, Chuck trails off into nothing. The implication clear.

“I’m sorry. I should’ve been there but I shouldn’t have been there. I should’ve caught you and been in the right place but the right place for me was not that ring. I…just…I can’t explain it. I didn’t need the money, I’ve wrestled across the world my whole life and I’m not short on money. I just needed…something. Something to keep me from becoming what I hated, everytime I look in the mirror what is staring back at me is just something I hate….”

The theme of sentences finishing unfinished continues, as Mike probably is honest out loud for the first time in a LONG time, something Chuck promptly acknowledges.

“We all chase it, brother. You’re not unique, you’re still just like the rest of us. Difference between us is I was chasing something I never had, but you walked away from what you want. You don’t have to answer, but why did you walk away? I didn’t understand it at all.”

The least I owe him is honesty, Mike thought to himself. Notoriously guarded over sharing his own thoughts and peeling back the curtain, there didn’t appear to be any danger in opening up under these circumstances.

“I didn’t recognize myself, which is pretty ironic right now I know given what I see when I look in the mirror. I lost to Alyster and was carried out of the arena by Kayden. I found myself as part of a group that was going nowhere. Danny was gone. Gabrielle was hanging in there and Kayden was……well he is Kayden right. I don’t play to lose, and I was doing a whole bunch of losing and not looking too good doing it. I spent a lot of time after the Summers match at Back in Business wondering exactly what I wanted to do – I was almost gone then. I went back for the North American Championship and the chance to be part of something great with Danny and, well….yeah. Just everything. The reason I didn’t speak is not just because it’s nobody’s business apart from my own, but also, I don’t think I really have the ability to put words to it. I just…left.”

Mike came here today to face past demons, that being the injury he believes he caused Chuck, but has somehow now managed to start facing up to the demons that he has suppressed for much longer than that. A strange about turn, indeed. Chuck, you would imagine, was deeply touched by this outpouring of emotion and was about to respond in kind.

“Catch a f**king grip of yourself.”

Not quite, then.

“You took the booking because you miss the thrill. You are build for it. I’m going to be away from it for the longest of time, and even when I do get back, it’s not going to be the same opportunity or at the same level that you are able to reach. But getting back is what I’m about to put everything into. You need to do the same. You can’t say when you look at this television that there is isn’t a part of you deep in there, that you haven’t tried to murder with booze, that still gets excited right? Keep that part of you alive, keep fanning that flame. It will spread, and you’ll be back there in no time……”

Chuck nods towards Fallout 025, the show emanating from Turkey. It just happens that a certain someone happens to be in the ring at the minute.

Knox falls backwards into the ring, staggering across the mat before dropping down near the center of the ring! Vampyra, now out on the apron after delivering the move, runs the apron and climbs to the top…

NIGHTFALL!

She connects it! She hooks the leg!

ONE!

TWO!

THREE!

Natalie Rosenberg: “The winner of the match, Vampyra!”

Vampyra climbs to her feet, falling back into the ropes and lifting up her arms in celebration as the crowd cheers showing their support of the Dark Huntress.

Allen Price: “What a win for Vampyra! She gets to hold her head high coming out of the F1 with a win! Well earned!”

standings5-004.jpg



Jean-Luc Watkins: “Yeah, yeah… but more importantly - Kayden Knox loses! Oh I’m so happy I got to call this match after all, Allen!”

Allen Price: “Haha… try to contain yourself!”


Vampyra rolls out of the ring, continuing to celebrate as she takes her WCW Television Championship and holds it up high. Meanwhile, Knox begins to stir in the ring, shaking his head as he realizes he just came up short in this one.

Jean-Luc Watkins: “And with that loss by Knox… it all comes down to Michelle van Horowitz vs. Tommy Bedlam for the second spot in the Climaxxx semifinals!”

Allen Price: “Another tough loss for Kayden Knox. Kayden's mind did not seem to be in that match at all.”

Jean-Luc Watkins: “As it shouldn't be Allen; We all saw what he did last week to his own partner and broke what was left of Executive Excellence. When he left the ring he couldn't even look anyone in the eye. Gabrielle trusted him, all of us did.”

Allen Price: “Partner, I think you are letting this cut close to home.”

Jean-Luc Watkins: “That's because Kayden's here while Gabrielle is in the hospital and they are working on her neck. He could of paralyzed her.”


Kayden Knox sits in the ring, his head held down. He is given a microphone, and for a few seconds doesn't say a word. He is catching his breath. He tries to speak but nothing comes out. When he does speak you hear him tremble and his voice break.

Kayden Knox: “Gabrielle, I am so sorry, I didn't have a choice. You were someone when we met last year that would go on to change my life. You did make me a better man, as much as a better man I wanted to be… you didn't make me a good man. I was enticed when you and I got together as a team. You could see the desire in our eyes. That desire evolved into an addiction of sorts for money, power and fame.”

Kayden stands back up and paces back and forth in the ring.

Kayden Knox: “We all came together for Executive Excellence; now everyone here knows the story. They saw how it played out. Danny, Gabi, and I when we got together the three of us we knew that Rupert Watkins thought he was the puppeteer but in reality we were the ones pulling the strings. That was at least, what I thought. The truth is however, I got the taste of the good life and wasn't aware of my surroundings and in the end it cost me everything it was just a matter of when not if it was going to happen.What do I mean?”

Mike pats the side of Chuck’s bed, and as the two men make eye contact a smile spreads across Chuck’s face. There is a little flitter in Mike’s eye, one that you can only be in the wrestling industry to be able to identify. The little flame is still there.

“Anything you need, let me know and I’ll look after it until you are back on your feet. Only fair I return the favour.”

A knowing nod, a final pat on the bed, and Mike gets up and leaves 14A and Chuck to enjoy the remainder of Fallout. If he keeps with the weekly programming, you might assume that he may be seeing a familiar face on there before too long.



Ball Arena
Denver, Colorado
February 2023

With Reagan and Bellatrix having just made their way through the curtain, there is no turning back now. Whilst just over a month has passed, it was a month well spent. We all saw Fight Night, but what we haven’t seen is Mike Parr and the work that he has put into this comeback. His face no longer pale, his hair no longer unkempt, his beard shaved down to some barely visible stubble. On the face of it, this is more of the Mike Parr that we know, right down to the trimmer waistline that was almost hidden from sight. Mike is hunched backstage, behind the curtain and waiting for his music to hit to mark his return from the FWA wilderness once more. He turns to his left, and the adrenaline is coursing through his body only slightly subsides with the warm smile he receives from Kathryn, there supporting him as always. He has the shakes, but the good kind.

“Get your phone”

Kathryn cocks her head to the side, curious but obliging, as she takes out her cell phone and holds it out in front of Mike.

“Film”

As requested, she presses record. Mike hops from his left to his right food, trying to shake out the nerves and excitement.

“If I ever go through a spell like the last three months again, show me this video. Because that version of Mike needs to hear this from me…..there is no feeling in the world like this. You need to pull your shit together and you need to remember that you are good at what you do, even if you haven’t quite got what you always deserved while doing it. There will be day when you can only be Mike Parr, where you can’t be The Prodigy any more, but that day if you are watching this video is not today. Today…you are the Prodigy. Today, you are the best wrestler in the world.”

A slight pause, as Mike smirks and reflects. That sentence has not seamlessly left his mouth in quite some time. Not missing an opportunity, one of the camera hands approached as Mike finished his last sentence, trying to capture some material for the website exclusives following Back in Town. Parr catches it, and ushers the cameraman into his face.

“Today, I remind everyone of what they seemingly have conspired to forget for the longest time, and how I do that is at the expense of Kayden Knox. People will say this isn’t a fight that Kayden picked, and you know something? They are right. For all of Kayden’s faults, he isn’t stupid. He didn’t pick this fight because he was close enough to me to know that this isn’t a fight that he has any chance of winning. He talks about Executive Excellence and how about all ‘three’ of them were once a group – I get it Kayden, greatness by association. Gabrielle trusted you and you betrayed her. Danny tolerated you because he had to. I……you weren’t even on my radar. You were just…there. You were the second body needed for a tag team championship but you couldn’t even do that right, could you? A couple of big Back in Business wins doesn’t make you a superstar, doesn’t make you a name, it makes you a trivia question. A tradition, I’m afraid, that is going to continue when you become the answer to the most important question in FWA wrestling history. That question? ‘When did we all realize that Mike Parr was back?’”

The crowd have started to buzz, as the promo package for the upcoming Parr/Knox match has begun to play in the arena ahead of the next match.

“Welcome to the big leagues Kayden, I can’t say that I always thought we would get here but this is your moment. You are about to stand across the ring from the main event of the two Back in Business’ that you claim make you, and you should bask in it. I’m going to soak it all in, from the appreciation of the crowd right down to the feeling that I get as your bones crunch beneath the pressure applied by my first. Bask in the moment because it’s going to be your last, where you and your lawyer can slip away back to irrelevancy and mediocrity, where Danny and Gabrielle plucked you from. Tonight is the night you become famous and infamous all in the same evening.”

The starting chords of ‘When The Lights Go Down’ start to play, before the scream of ‘ALWAYS READY’ engulfs the arena.

“Maybe not 'always' but I’m ready now. Time to get back to work.”

With that, Mike swivels and pokes his way through the curtain as the arena rises to officially welcome back The Prodigy. A reaction reciprocated 200 miles away in a certain Room 14A in Toronto.
 
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Mandalorian

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Chris Peacock in…

DANCE ‘TIL YOU’RE DEAD


This video was uploaded to the YouTube channel ‘Dead Meat’, on 24 May, 2025.

Following the usual titles which play at the beginning of each of the Kill Count videos for which the Dead Meat channel is known for, we are shown the studio space. In the foreground of the frame is a man - known to long-time viewers as the host of the Kill Count, James A. Janisse. Today, James is wearing a purple suit with a white shirt underneath, a clearly-fake black moustache with his matching, natural black hair slicked back.

On the top of the multi-shelf unit behind James to his right is a replica of the FWA World Championship which has been covered in fake blood and an Alyster Black mask. A disco ball hangs above the unit, creating a unique effect to the studio space around him. Underneath the top shelf is the usual accompaniment of James’s collection of horror movie memorabilia, accumulated as part of past ‘Kill Count’ videos.

“Welcome to the Kill Count, where we tally up the victims in all of our favourite horror movies. I’m James A. Janisse and today we’re looking at ‘Dance ‘Til You’re Dead’, a 2024 movie which combines two of my favourite things in this world; zombies and some good ol’ fashioned rasslin’!”

As James speaks, viewers are shown some brief shots from the movie, mainly of zombies attacking people in a crowded area, and an intriguing clip of a man executing a German Suplex on a zombie, causing its head to burst upon landing.

“Dance ‘Til You’re Dead is a retelling of the events of the Fantasy Wrestling Alliance’s ‘Back in Town’ Pay-Per-View in February 2023 - where Chris Peacock defeated Devin Golden to become the FWA World Champion in the main event - but this time there’s a whole freakin’ zombie apocalypse going on!”

Chris Peacock talking to someone in the movie is shown in what appears to be a moment of levity in the movie, likely before a lot of the action has gone down. Another shows Allen Price scrambling away from the commentary table.

“We’ve seen the zombie movie sub-genre be a successful movie formula for decades now. As a result of that, it can often be difficult to make something that stands out, but this movie being set within the world of the Fantasy Wrestling Alliance really gives it a unique chance to provide something fresh that we’ve not seen before. Keen-eyed viewers will be able to spot some pretty cool Easter eggs specific to the wrestling world and then of course there is the slew of FWA stars who feature in the movie, many of them playing themselves, including the lead, Chris Peacock.”

There are more clips of Peacock shown, this time not from the movie itself, but what appears to be the premiere on a red carpet, along with him sitting next to Alyster Black at a press junket and the two sharing a laugh. A shot from the movie is shown again though, with Peacock - his eyes filled with tears - seemingly reaching over the ledge of a building.

“The potential offered by the premise is never properly realised and that is unfortunately mainly due to the writing and direction of Allen Price, who wrote, directed, produced and also co-starred in the movie. Whilst the central story of Chris Peacock fighting monsters, both in the literal sense and the demons he feels inside of himself, makes for a compelling tale and Peacock himself shows off some real acting chops, some of the dialogue is really sketchy and the pacing of the movie is just way off in places.”

James seems slightly disappointed as he speaks when the video cuts back to him. Again from the movie, a single match is held aloft in what appears to be some sort of dark tunnel, but it is not possible to see who is holding it or what they are looking at.

“Part of the reason for these pacing issues are the numerous scenes that needed to be cut due to their irrelevance to the plot, casting changes mid-way through production and extensive rewrites of some scenes.”

A split screen of Jean-Luc Watkins from the movie is shown, the first has him (acting as himself) sitting at the commentary table and the second seems to actually be a man dressed the same and bearing a slight resemblance to JLW in a dark place, indicating a casting change.

“All of that said though, Dance ‘Til You’re Dead is a really fun movie and a must-watch for both fans of wrestling and zombies. This is in part due to the performances of some of the wrestlers in the film, some of whom show that they can really pull off more grounded and serious roles than their wrestling personas we see on TV every couple of weeks.”

Some more clips of some FWA wrestlers from actual FWA programming are shown, including Chris Peacock and Alyster Black with the FWA World Tag Team Championships in their possession and Reagan Cole getting smacked about by Joe Burr.

“A quick ground rule for this Kill Count is that I will be counting human kills only, because trust me, a lot of zombies eat it in this movie. So, how many people tap out of living? Let’s find out and get to the kills!”

THE KILLS

The usual music which accompanies this section of the Kill Count begins to play and the first shot of the movie is shown; an aerial view of Chris Peacock laying in a hotel room bed. The bedsheets are crimson red, making Peacock appear like he is already covered in blood long before the carnage that will take place later that day has begun. As clips from the movie are shown, James continues to talk over it in a voiceover.

“The movie begins with a pretty restless-looking Chris Peacock laying in bed and as you can see from the way he can’t keep still, it’s not been a good night’s sleep. There’s something on his mind and there should be! Today is the day that he is going to challenge Devin Golden for the FWA World Championship! Whatever nightmare he is having rouses him enough to cause him to wake up with a start and we see our TITLE CARD!”

Chris sits up in the bed and as he breathes heavily in a state of worry, the words ‘DANCE ‘TIL YOU’RE DEAD’ appear on the bottom of the screen. The lettering is composed of what appears to be broken pieces of mirror, likely from a disco ball. He checks his phone and attention is paid to the date shown on the lock screen; 19 February 2023.

Seeing the date causes Chris’s face to go pale and he puts his fists on his forehead, pressing down on his temple and rocking slightly, breathing fast and heavy as he does so. His t-shirt is stained with sweat from the restless night’s sleep he had, also.

“It is clear that the nerves and the occasion have deeply affected Peacock. In fact, he suffers several panic attacks such as these throughout the film and how he copes with the pressure and comes to terms with his position is a central theme to the main story of the movie.

He’s like this for good reason, too; not long before this show took place in real life, Peacock got absolutely obliterated by Devin Golden in what has gone down in history as one of the biggest verbal undressings ever seen in the world of professional wrestling!”


As Chris sits on the bed, trying to ride out the panic attack, the movie displays clips from the Fight Night: The Final Four show which took place prior to Back in Town. Chris Peacock is near-cowering in the corner of the ring as Golden talks down at him and voice clips from the actual in-ring segment are played.

“You’re not special…”

“There is nothing you can do to hurt me…”

“You can’t make me care about you…”


“Those words play an important role in this movie, and Chris’s reactions to them here are reflective of how he actually felt at the time. Peacock has spoken about in interviews since that he would regularly have panic attacks such as these in the lead up to this match. In fact, he famously had one less than an hour before it started!”

A clip from a press junket is shown, with Peacock listening to a question and then taking a moment to think about an answer before responding. “I think it is important that experiences like that are talked about in a general sense, but for the movie it worked as well. That is how I felt at the time going into that match.”

“I really felt like I’d made a mistake. Those moments like you see in the film, where I am having a panic attack or similar, are because of my choices. That’s how it was at the time.”
Chris thought on his words for a moment, before continuing. “I was questioning my choice to go forward with the match, I could have pulled out at any time. Even though I’d beaten Devin before, in fact I was unbeaten against him going into the match, it wasn’t going to be the same. None of that was going to matter, and thanks to Devin, I’d just realised it myself.”

“He was the big match player. Who was I? I was the guy having panic attacks in a hotel room.”
Peacock nodded his head. “I felt outmatched and frankly, in over my head.”

“Through his portrayal of himself in the film, Peacock does a great job in displaying someone feeling out of place in a position of importance. Well, Chris, your day is about to get much, much worse!”

Back to the film, it is only with a loud scream of “STOP!” that Peacock is able to make the voices in his head stop and he falls back onto the bed, still breathing heavily. The camera zooms in on the television situated in the hotel room.

“You see, in his panic, Chris failed to notice the news report in the background stating that there’s been a quarantine at the CDC.”

We then see a shot of James in his studio once again, and he looks rather frustrated. He addresses the camera once again, and when he does we’re shown a similar shot to the one in the opening with a figure walking through darkness holding a match.

“Now, we never actually get to find out what caused the zombie outbreak because that’s the only reference to it in the entire movie. Price decides to spend the next fifteen minutes trying to tell a completely different story, which seriously affects the pacing of the movie and takes us away from the really solid opening featuring Chris Peacock on his big day.”

Further shots from this scene show that the person holding the match is Ratin Mikichin, who is in some sort of underground tunnel.

“It is about this guy, Ratin Mikichin, a then-FWA wrestler, who was trying to find out how to kill a vampire or something. I’m not going to cover any of this because there are no kills in this section and it was really dumb and it had no place in the movie, and it ultimately came to nothing. You’ll find out why soon. But for now, it is back to the good stuff with Chris Peacock…”

Dressed in casual clothes, Chris is shown arriving at the Ball Arena in Denver where he is greeted by several FWA production assistants and some of the lower level wrestlers who were just hanging around.

“Chris arrives at the arena, ready for his match in the main event of the show and exchanges some pleasantries with these schmucks here, but soon he finds someone actually worth talking to - it’s Alyster freakin’ Black!”

Chris and Alyster bump fists and share a hug upon meeting up with each other and they start walking down a corridor together.

“An exchange similar to this happened for real at the Pay-Per-View but in this version of events, Alyster is slightly more antagonistic than what many would have believed him to have been like. This is before Peacock and Black had won multiple tag team championships together and close to the beginning of their team, known as FTN.”

“Not long before joining up with Black, Peacock actually cut ties with Allen Price and many suspect that Alyster’s portrayal in the movie being how it is is due to Price’s jealousy. For that reason, that is definitely NOT the real Alyster Black under that mask. This is something which annoyed fans at the time of the movie’s release as the trailer and other promotional material heavily suggested that Black himself would be appearing in the movie and they were not happy with Allen Price for misleading them.”


The video cuts to some news report footage showing some cinema walk-outs and protests outside of the production studio responsible for releasing the film, all due to Allen Price’s mishandling of the movie’s promotional material.

“Chris and Alyster are buds though, although you’d be forgiven for not thinking this due to how Alyster approaches Chris’s recent troubles… especially when Chris has his second panic attack of the day right in front of his friend.”

Whilst James’s voice plays over the movie audio, we see Chris dropping to his knees in front of Alyster and just like when he first woke up, he finds himself gripped by another panic attack. Alyster helps him up and puts an arm over his shoulder. “Is it worth it? Is it worth all of this?”

There is a moment of silence between them as Alyster considers the question… and then slaps Chris across the mouth, shocking Chris. “Pull yourself together, man. Get a fucking grip. As much as I hate to admit it, that dickhead was right. Don’t make the same mistake I made. Don’t give him the fucking satisfaction. Go out there and do this for yourself. Fuck him.”

Chris slowly nods as he accepts Alyster’s words. “I just don’t know if I can do this… the briefcase is the best chance I’m going to get to do this. Am I wasting it? Is this really the right time? I could have done it after your match with him. He was done…”

The reminder of the circumstances of how the match initially came about caused Alyster to sigh and shake his head. “Do I have to slap you again? You’ve got nothing to worry about. Now, get the fuck out of here.”

Getting up to walk away, Chris nodded his head in Alyster’s direction but stopped upon Alyster calling back after him. “Wait, there’s something I wanted to give you.”

Alyster pulls something out of his back pocket and then places it in Chris’s hand. It was at first glance a piece of fabric, but upon closer inspection, it was the same kind found on Alyster’s head. Chris held the mask up and saw it was not a standard Alyster Black mask; the usual green accents had been swapped out for a blue. “This is for me? I don’t understand.”

“I was going to give you this after you won tonight. I don’t need to go into why I wear this. But if you’re really that worried that you can’t do this by being you, then use this instead.”
Alyster prodded Peacock’s chest as he spoke to him. “I don’t think you’re going to need it, though. You’ve got this.”

“Thank you, Alyster. This really means-”

“Save it. I’ll be here after the show, we can talk about it then.”
Alyster said, cutting Chris off and allowing Peacock to go on his way.

“A bit of tough love from Alyster Black there for sure, but if you ask me it wasn’t enough to get Chris Peacock into the zone ahead of his big match. Now. I bet you’ve all been waiting for those kills to start, huh? Well, strap yourselves in, because this thing is about to get bloody in a hurry!”

“Remember our friend Ratin Mikichin? I said that it was a waste of time focusing on him and you’re about to see why.”


At some point backstage during the show, Ratin is shown in a bathroom wearing nothing but his trusty mankini when the door slowly opens behind him. As he looks in the mirror he sees his nemesis, Steve the Techno Vampire, slowly approaching him. Ratin turns around and his face indicates that something is not quite right and Steve suddenly lunges at him!

“That’s not just a vampire - that’s a zombie vampire! Steve does what vampires do best and goes straight for the neck, taking a chunk right out and securing Ratin’s fate as the first man eliminated.”

Zombie Steve sinks his fangs into Ratin’s neck as Ratin screams in horror, before the zombie vampire goes in for seconds.

#1 RATIN MIKICHIN - BITTEN ON NECK

“Back to Chris Peacock now, and he’s making his way towards the ring for his match unaware that there’s a growing population of zombies on the loose. A stage or set wasn’t used in order to recreate the atmosphere inside the Ball Arena; they actually hired it out and filled it with thousands of extras.”

“For the scene of Chris Peacock making his entrance, I really liked how they tried to match this to Peacock’s entrance at the actual show. The same camera angles were used as we’d normally see on FWA programming and we also had commentary from Allen Price and Jean-Luc Watkins! Both in the film, playing fictionalised versions of themselves.”


Back to the movie, and we’re shown the commentary team for the first time. Jean-Luc Watkins is all business as usual in a sharp navy suit whilst Allen Price has strangely adorned himself with an unnecessarily large fur coat which he wears over his pastel blue suit jacket.

“You see that coat Allen Price is wearing? That caused one or two problems during production; Jean-Luc Watkins threatened to walk from shooting his scenes if it was a real fur coat, so it is actually faux fur and some of Price’s discomfort in the coat actually made it through into the final edit.”

One of these shots are shown from the movie, with Allen looking very uncomfortable in his chosen wardrobe, but art imitates life as Watkins ignores Price’s shenanigans and presses on with his lines.

Jean-Luc Watkins: “Ladies, gentlemen and wrestling fans alike, it is now time for our main event to top off what has already been a historic show here in Denver. Chris Peacock will finally get his ‘Golden’ opportunity as he challenges one of the greatest of all time for the FWA World Championship.”

Allen Price: “This is a moment that Chris Peacock has been waiting for his entire life, Jean-Luc and one I have known was coming from the very first moment that I ever set eyes on him.”

Jean-Luc Watkins: “The one question everyone wants to know the answer to is… ‘Can Chris Peacock beat Devin Golden when it actually matters?’”




There is a very loud response from the crowd assembled in the arena, but it subsides as they are left waiting for a few moments before Chris Peacock does finally appear on the stage. He has his Singapore cane and briefcase with him, as has been custom for the months leading up to this moment. The man who aims to become the FWA World Champion for the very first time wears a lot of the nerves previously shown. The showman inside of him can’t find its way through to the surface. The cocky bounce in his step - his strut is also absent.

“Whilst Allen Price’s direction really takes some of the attention away from Peacock - there’s a lot more pretty pointless back and forth between him and Watkins - Peacock really does sell where his mind was at that point in time.”

More from the previous interview with Peacock is shown, and Chris is watching his actual entrance from Back in Town, with a grin on his face. “I might be smiling about it now, but I could have honestly thrown up at any point on my way to the ring. I’d competed in Denver before - I’d won there. It just wasn’t the same. No match I’d had up to that point in time was the same as this.”

“The pep talk that Alyster gave me before the match… I like to tell him that it helped, but really, it just exacerbated how I was feeling more. I knew what everyone was saying about me, that I wasn’t ready and I was going to get found out. Alyster Black had just lost to this guy. If he couldn’t do it, how could I? How could I be the number one guy if the guy I thought was the number one guy couldn’t beat Devin? I felt put in my place, and that place was not in the main event of a Pay-Per-View for the FWA World Championship.”


From Peacock’s interview, the scene shifts back to the movie and Peacock enters the ring and absorbs the ovation being directed towards him, although he feels it is entirely unearned.

“Chris nods his head at the referee, Larry Stevens - someone he considered a friend - and acknowledges veteran announcer Kurt Harrington, both of whom are also playing themselves in the movie.”

We see James back in his studio now, and he gives the camera a very frank look and cocks his eyebrow.

“Those of you familiar with the FWA will know that Devin Golden’s theme song is ‘Zombie’ by the Cranberries - yes, that is where the inspiration for this movie came from - and all of his entrances start with a collective scream of the word ‘ZOMBIE’. ‘Dance ‘Til You’re Dead’ puts a unique twist on this with a terrified fan screaming the word when she sees a zombified Ratin stumble into the crowd before she becomes zombie chow and the second kill on our list!”

“ZOOOOOOOOOOOMMMBBBIIIIEEEEEEEE!”


The female fan points and screams as Ratin approaches her and tackles her to the ground, before leaving her corpse to reanimate and he moves off in search of his next target.

#2 SCREAMING FAN - ZOMBIE BITE

More zombies - infected off-screen - then pour out of the opening in the stands and attack more fans in the stands, with the panic and hysteria quickly spreading throughout the arena. The video shows some of the fans succumbing to the zombies, being bundled over, bitten and devoured by the growing horde.

“As the zombie infection spreads inside the Ball Arena, I was able to identify thirty-eight fans and security personnel meeting their ends and I spotted another fifteen dead bodies in the stands. Some of these kills happen in the background of subsequent scenes, but for ease I have just included them all in the count here.”

#3-#55 FANS, SECURITY - ZOMBIE ATTACK

In the ring, Chris Peacock is shown panicking for a moment as he sees what is happening and the zombies are moving closer towards the ring through the fleeing fans. They reach behind the commentary table and Allen screams in terror before bucking it into the ring, where Chris helps him in, and JLW backs away from the approaching horde and hides under the ring.

Peacock looks towards the entrance way and spots the man that he was due to be facing in the match which is clearly no longer going ahead. Devin Golden seems unfazed by the entire situation but does move away from some zombies which have made their way over the barricade and have decided to pursue him. Golden takes the FWA World Championship under his arm and scurries up a staircase adjacent to the stage, but not before sharing eye contact with Peacock for a moment. Chris looks to follow him, but he is grabbed on the shoulder by Allen, preventing him from getting grabbed on the ankle by a zombie on the outside of the ring.

“Even with the sudden threat of zombies surrounding the ring, Peacock still couldn’t take his eyes off of Golden and it almost bit him - literally! Seeing that the zombies were not going after Jean-Luc Watkins under the ring, those inside of it decided to try and join him, but not before Kurt lost his fucking mind and ran for his life! We don’t see the zombies get him though, so I’m not going to count him as a kill. Chris makes good use of that cane of his and starts braining some zombies to clear a path.”

Peacock knocks a few of the undead back with his Singapore cane and this does pave the way for him to get out of the ring, where he continues to swing and create some space around him. Allen Price rolls under the bottom rope and he gets under the ring and Chris follows him. Larry Stevens goes to follow them, but as he scrambles under the ring, he’s grabbed by zombies and pulled back. Under the ring, Chris grabs Larry’s arm and tries to pull him free, but the zombies overpower him and Larry’s arm becomes detached from his body and he is pulled out of sight and devoured.

#56 LARRY STEVENS - DISARMED AND DEVOURED BY ZOMBIES

“Things slow down for a moment in the movie as it is just Peacock, Price and Watkins under the ring as the zombies chew on some zebra outside. Covered in the blood of zombies and his friend’s detached arm on the ground next to him, Chris Peacock has another panic attack and this one is pretty justified if you ask me!”

As already seen before, Chris drops his head low as his breathing intensifies. He can only manage to get a few words out. “He… h-he… he got away… why? Why does he get to do this every time? E-every time he gets away… like nothing happened. We have to get to the roof.”

Chris’s words are met with an initial bout of silence from Watkins and Price, who look at each other momentarily. However, JLW slams his fist on the floor, attracting Chris’s attention and he looks over at Jean-Luc whilst trying to block out the growls of the zombies. “What’s your problem?”

“You’re still focussing on him? Even now? The world is ending around you and you still can’t seem to grasp the bigger picture, can you?”


“N-no… the roof is a good place to go. It is high up…”

“You’ve called a helicopter in, I take it? You fucking idiot.”
Watkins pauses and takes a sharp breath, holding his side. “Do you want to know why I’ve always hated you?”

As Jean-Luc grimaces for a moment, he straightens himself up. “Why?”

“It isn’t for the reason you think. You’ve knocked me about a couple of times and what you did to Quinn wasn’t cool, but none of that has anything to do with why I loathe you so much.”
Jean-Luc takes another sharp inhale. “You frustrate me. You have everything that it takes and every person knows it but you. You make decisions that hinder you in the name of ‘doing the right thing’. I think that you already know you could have been so much more successful than you have been.”

“Do you really think anyone would have cared if you took the vacant title? Or if you cashed in on Golden? All people would have remembered are the history books and they would have said that Chris Peacock was the best in the world. Think Nova Diamond stays up at night worrying about how he was perceived? No, he goes to sleep knowing that he was a champion and that is enough for him.”

“I really thought that last year, you’d finally cracked the code. ‘The Boogie Man’... you were near-unstoppable, Chris. Until you got in your own way again. I could have been you heading up Fallout if you’d have shown some conviction in that Carnal Contendership… you’d have beaten Danny had you not sought to do what you thought was the right thing for the world.”
Chris and Allen listen intently as Watkins groans for a moment, and is starting to sweat profusely. “You could have been so much more, but I guess none of this matters now. Not to me, anyway.”

There is some confusion under the ring when Jean-Luc opens up his suit jacket and reveals the patch of blood forming on his white shirt, causing Chris and Allen to gasp.

“Yeah, so Watkins can jump down from that high horse he’s put himself on because… YA BIT, J-L!”

Tempers start to flare under the ring and Chris dives towards Watkins and knocks him over and this alerts some of the zombies outside, who try to claw under the ring apron to grab the two men. Allen reaches across and pulls Chris away from danger, and this leaves Jean-Luc to become zombie food.

#57 JEAN-LUC WATKINS - DEVOURED BY ZOMBIES

“Keen-eyed viewers may have realised that a double was used for Jean-Luc’s death scene because the real JLW was not happy with the manner in which he was killed in the film as he claimed that it made Chris Peacock look too strong in comparison to him. Anyway, the zombies now know that Allen and Chris are hiding under the ring so they decide to make a hasty exit and Chris puts that cane to good use some more.”

Chris leads the way from underneath the ring as the zombies surrounding it become attracted to the fresh Watkins meat laid out for them.

He strikes down a couple more zombies with his cane and Allen stays as close as he can to him. Chris drives the end of the cane through the face of a female zombie and then hears a scream from behind him as Allen is under attack, “NO!”

Chris watches on in horror as one of the zombies grabs Allen by the arm and then sinks its teeth into his forearm over his garish coat and Price screams out loudly. Chris quickly comes over and takes care of the zombies mobbing Allen. “IT BIT ME! IT BIT ME!”

“Come on, Allen, we can sort this out. Just follow me…”
Chris grabs Allen and puts his arm over his shoulder and rushes Price through the few zombies which are walking towards them down the ramp. As they pass the passage through which Devin escaped, Chris lingers for a moment before pressing on towards the curtain.

“Allen Price wearing that zombie bite a lot better than that fur coat! Next comes what is one of my favourite sequences in the movie as we see some freakin’ wrestlers hitting wrestling moves on a bunch of zombies!”

As Chris and Allen reach the backstage area, the carnage has spread here and Chris witnesses some of his fellow FWA roster members dealing with the attack. Reagan Cole hits an impressive German Suplex on a zombie, crushing its head, but with him being on the floor he is set upon by another two. Lizzie Rose is being cornered by one, but Joe Burr approaches from behind and rolls it up to keep it at bay. Joe even counts the pin but in his celebration a zombie resembling Shawn Summers takes a bite out of his head. Lizzie is then mobbed as she is frozen in fear.

Tommy Bedlam is shown kicking a zombie’s head off of its shoulders and he picks the head up and uses it to bash another on the head, but his hand gets bitten by the mouth of the decapitated head he holds. He trips over the dogpile on Reagan Cole’s corpse and is then bundled by the zombies himself. Jeremy Best goes to hug a zombified Bryan Baxter, but the zombie predictably takes a chunk out of his shoulder.

#58-#63 REAGAN COLE, JOE BURR, LIZZIE ROSE, TOMMY BEDLAM & JEREMY BEST - DEVOURED BY ZOMBIES

“Obviously, Chris is pretty fucked up after seeing a bunch of people he considered colleagues becoming zombie chow, but for Allen’s sake he leads his friend through the crowd, taking on some more zombies himself as he does so. They find refuge in one of the locker rooms and Chris slams the door shut behind them. With it being just the two of them left, it is time for these two to have a proper talk for the first time since Chris socked Allen in the jaw a couple of months earlier.”

As they enter the room, Chris shoves Allen further inside and tips a wardrobe over in front of the door to act as a makeshift barricade of sorts. “That should hold it for the time being.”

“Let me see.”
Chris says as he reaches for Allen’s arm, trying to pull the sleeve of his coat up, but Allen slaps his attempt away. “What’s the deal, man?”

“Just go, Chris. Go and get him. It is your last chance, after all. Go to the roof.”
Allen says, weakly.

Chris shakes his head. “I’m not leaving you… not again. H-he can wait. This wouldn’t have happened to you if I didn’t leave you the first time. I’m sorry, Allen. I’m so fucking sorry…”

As Chris breaks down into tears, Allen slowly lifts the sleeve of his coat up and notices that his arm is fine, surmising that the thickness of his coat protected his skin from being pierced. His eyes widen and he looks at Chris, before slowly lowering his sleeve again before Chris notices that he is uninjured.

“I’ve been too hard on you. I acted like I was better than you… you were only trying to do your best and I was so hung up on the outcomes that I didn’t think about your intentions… y-you’ve always done what you’ve thought was best for me. I’ve been so focused on Golden, and-”

“That isn’t true, Chris. You punched me before he was the champion, before he was back in your sights. You were mad at me… for costing you your match. I understand, you should have been. I don’t blame you for punching me, because you did it for the right reason. You cut me out, dropped Rick and Sonny and didn’t speak to Drew or Max because you were focused on yourself. They didn’t mind. I didn’t mind. You were starting to realise that potential that everyone has been talking about forever. We were happy for you, ready to watch you succeed. Then…”

“Then he came back into my life. It was all about him again.”
The two of them share a moment of silence as Chris understands what is being said to him.

Allen places a finger on Chris’s chest, whilst faking losing energy and dying. “You’re our champion, Chris. You have been from the start, whether we showed it or not. Whether you believed it yourself or not. We’ve known it was true this entire time.”

As seen several times before, Chris clenches his eyes closed and ducks his head down towards his chest. He goes to put his hands on his forehead, but Allen grabs them and slowly lowers them. As Chris looks up, tears in his eyes, he sees Allen slowly shaking his head. “I know what you’re going to say. You’re ready, Chris. You have been for a… long… time...”

“With that, Allen Price succumbs to the infection brought on by the zombie bite, or so Chris is led to believe. Despite all of his shortcomings as an actor, director, producer and whatever the fuck else he did on this film, Price should get some credit for his lines in that scene because they were entirely improvised. He later said that they reflected his feelings towards Chris at the time. They weren’t talking, but he never stopped supporting the man who brought him into the FWA in the first place.”

Chris stands up over Allen’s ‘dead’ body and looks around the room that he has found himself in, as the door begins to shake due to the undead on the outside trying to force their way in. He walks towards the dresser and looks at his reflection in the mirror and he stares into his own eyes, searching for himself. He wipes some of the tears from one of his eyes and slowly nods his head. “It might have taken me until now to put my priorities in order, but I know what I need to do.”

“I can’t take you with me to the top, Allen, but you can help get me there.”
As Chris turns back to Price’s ‘corpse’, he drops to a knee and removes the coat that Allen was wearing, not realising that Allen’s eyes opened in a panic as his faking could have been exposed. Chris puts the fur jacket on for protection, and then reaches into his own pocket and pulls out the mask that Alyster gave him, placing it over his face. He takes his cane and moves the wardrobe from the door and stands in front of it, ready.

“Wearing gifts from his two best friends, Chris waits for the horde to make their way through the door and when they do, he charges through, getting ready to have his climactic showdown with Devin Golden.”

Chris barges through the zombies and disappears from sight as Allen Price opens his eyes and gulps as they realise that Chris was not the only piece of meat on the menu. Zombie Joe Burr slowly approaches Allen and he lets out a high pitched scream as he is bitten for real this time, and the rest of the reanimated wrestlers descend on him too.

#64 ALLEN PRICE - DEVOURED BY ZOMBIES

“Apparently Allen Price’s death scene was one of the longest in the film to shoot, because of his real life fear of zombies and being eaten alive! Why the fuck did you put it in the damn movie, then?!”

After some shots of failed takes of Allen’s death, we’re back into footage from the movie. Chris runs through a hallway, striking any zombie he can see with his cane.

“I’ve counted another four dead human bodies as Chris makes his way towards the roof, with the zombie horde following him as one of the few remaining survivors left in the building.”

#65-#68 PEOPLE - UNKNOWN CAUSES (PROBABLY ZOMBIES)

“As Chris makes it out onto the roof of the building, it becomes clear just how quickly the infection has spread across the city of Denver and there’s fires, explosions, gunshots and all sorts of other shit ringing around in the night’s sky. A look down from Chris shows that the entire building has been surrounded by zombies and there doesn’t seem to be a way out. Chris made his decision and he’s got to find a way out of it.”

As Chris walks across the roof, he removes Allen’s jacket and Alyster’s mask, putting the latter in his back pocket. He slowly walks towards the figure sitting nearby with their legs swinging as they hang from the roof of the building.

“Who is that there? Why of course it is the man that this has been about for Chris Peacock. Devin motherfreakin’ Golden. For obvious reasons, Golden isn’t playing himself here so they brought in Rodrigo Santoro! You know, the guy who voiced the Brazilian dub of Stuart Little!”

“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” Devin Golden said. Placed precariously on his lap is the FWA World Championship, and Chris ses the flames in the distance reflected off of the surface of the large gold belt. Devin turns to face Chris and smiles, greeting him almost as a friend, and he pats his left hand on the ground next to him, inviting Chris to join him. “You know, I was convinced my world was going to end tonight. That I was going to wake up from the dream.”

“Reckon you could spare me the delusion for five minutes, pal?”
Chris said, with a groan as he sat down. It had been a very exhausting day. “I’ve had a pretty long day.”

“No, I mean it. I thought that you were going to kill me.”
Devin shakes his head, still half-marvelling at the carnage unfolding before him as faint screams can be heard from within the city below. “It was the only way that you were going to beat me, I think. I don’t think that what I said to you actually went through. Sure, you were upset… but it was more like a child being told off by a teacher kind of thing. I don’t think you had some sort of major revelation or anything.”

Even at the end of the world as they knew it, Chris finds it incredibly hard to put up with Devin’s arrogance. Devin picks up on this, and softly laughs. “Come on, Chris! You’re you and I’m me. You’d have been so damned focused on hurting me, like you were at Back in Business, that I’d have been able to take advantage of one of the dozens of openings you’d have left me. Remember, you only won at Back in Business because I let you.”

“I could have killed you in the ring, trust me.”
Chris says, through gritted teeth. Again, this draws a chuckle from Golden.

“Why though? Why would you have killed me?” Devin looks at Chris inquisitively, and then backs away from the ledge and stands up. Chris ensures to keep his eye on Devin as he lurks behind him, walking in a seemingly random pattern. “Would you have done it to hurt me, to really make me suffer, or would you have done it because it was your only chance to get those grubby little hands on this?”

Devin holds the championship towards Peacock, just inches away from his face, and Chris turns back around to stare at Denver. “I don’t think any of that is important right now.”

That is met with a haughty laugh from Golden, which echoes into the night. “I can’t believe this shit! You still don’t get it, do you? You’re still getting it aaaaaaaaalllllll wroooooooong!”

The return of Devin’s crazy person voice also brings Peacock to his feet and he stands in front of Devin with his fists balled and he takes a couple of steps closer towards him. A smirk forms on Devin’s face. “There he is.”

“I’ve spent this entire day wondering whether it was all even worth it. Whether it is worth this drive inside of me taking over my entire life-”

“This IS LIFE!”
Devin says, emphatically. “You just don’t get it, do you? What are you so damn afraid of?”

“You’re wrong. I understand it more clearly now than I ever have before. I’ve wanted that title more than anything from the minute when I first laced up a pair of wrestling boots. Ever since the first time I watched my dad wrestle, I knew this is what I wanted to do. I knew that I was going to get there some day..”
Chris fights back a tear before continuing. “I’m not scared of not living up to people’s expectations. I’m not scared of being that number one and people coming after me. No. None of that scares me. None of that has made me afraid to become who I know I am destined to be.”

“None of that scares me. You know what I am scared of, though? What fucking terrifies me? Losing myself. I’m scared of giving away everything in order to be number one. Compromising every part of myself, my beliefs and the love in my life just to become the champion.”

“I almost lost myself before, man. That’s what brought me to your door in the first place. The hate inside of me that I thought was driving me towards my goals was taking me further away from them. I thought I snapped out of it. I thought last year at Carnal Contendership that I was ready… but that piece of hatred inside of me towards you is what held me back. Everything brought me back to you, you fucking asshole.”

“So I HAD to make this about you, and not about the title. Because if I did, that hatred inside of me that is so intrinsically linked to you, it would have taken over me. Completely. It would have attached itself to the title and I couldn’t let that happen. I’ve seen what that thing does to people.”


Chris points at the championship Devin is holding. “That thing turned Cyrus into a paranoid and bitter old bastard who thinks the whole world is out to get him. It turned Michelle into a dependent degenerate who lives for the next fix. It turned Danny… into a fucking power-hungry sellout! Worst of all though, is what it has done to you. That is what scares me.”

Devin raises an eyebrow. “What’s that then?”

“Five-time World Champion, fourteen total championships or whatever the fuck it is… what has it done to you, though? What was the cost?” Chris points at Devin directly this time. What neither man notes though is the growing sound of growling and snarling coming from the direction which Chris arrived in. “Your sanity? Your relationships? People you cared about? Who cared about you? Nah, FUCK THAT! Not me. No fuckin’ way.”

“If that is what it takes, I’m cool as I am, man.”
Chris raises his hands in the air, showing that he is not interested in what Devin is holding towards him. “It started already, man. Allen, Rick, Sonny, Drew, Max… I forced them all away from me but somehow, still, they’re still there. So, that isn’t what it takes. That’s just what it took for you. Was I really going to lose anything? Have I been worrying about all of this shit for nothing?”

“I’m not like you, Devin. You don’t have love in your heart. You’re just a self-serving, entitled asshole who relies on a legacy which you built on the backs of better men.”
Chris smiles. A genuine, happy smile. The first he had managed the entire day. “So, I could have broken the cycle. I could have been the one to hold this title and not become corrupted by it. I would have been. I could have lived my dream without turning it into a nightmare and there’s not a fuckin’ thing you would have been able to do to change that.”

It becomes apparent that only Chris is aware of the encroaching zombie horde gathering behind Devin, and he readies himself. “So, I really don’t give as much of a shit about you as you think I do. You can stand there and accept your poetic death or whatever the fuck you’ve been after or you can stand here and fight. I know what I’m doing… because I never do things the easy way.”

Devin turns around with a start upon feeling a zombie reaching for him, and he runs past Chris further along the roof and scrambles up onto a higher platform. Chris canes a couple of the zombies and then does the same, following Devin. Realising that the zombies can’t easily access them, Chris looks around for Golden and eventually finds him standing on the ledge, overlooking a horde of what must be hundred of zombies below.

“What are you doing?!” Chris calls out, and he starts running towards Golden. As he gets closer, he sees Devin smiling.

“You finally get it.”

Devin tilts his head back and allows himself to fall backwards from the ledge.

“NO!”

Chris dives towards the ledge and reaches out, and feels his hand grab something. He looks down and sees that it is the strap of the FWA World Championship and Devin is still holding onto it as he hangs from the side of the building now. Chris strains as he tries to pull Devin up. “Give me your hand…”

“Now that you’ve woken up… all you’ll want to do is go back to sleep…”


Chris screams as Devin lets go of the championship and Chris watches as Golden falls down before disappearing into the mass of zombies below and his remains are scrapped on by the horde.

#69 DEVIN GOLDEN - FELL FROM ARENA ROOF

“Devin Golden joins the black parade and is the final kill in the movie! Chris Peacock is the last man standing and he realises that something else Devin said to him was going to be coming true…”

As Chris rises to his feet and looks down on the championship which is now in his possession, he stares around for a moment before he notices that the zombies that had made it onto the roof are now within metres of him.

“There will be people breathing down your neck. Michelle… Alyster… Danny… Cyrus…”

As the words ring through in his head, he sees the zombified versions of the aforementioned approaching him. All clamouring towards him and circling in on him. Chris does not bristle though, he holds the title in front of him and prepares to use it as a weapon against them; he is not going to go down without a fight…

“It looks like it could be the end for Chris Peacock… but here’s that helicopter he forgot he ordered!”

A rain of bullets fire down on the zombies in front of Chris, putting them all down and a spotlight then focuses on Chris as he covers his eyes. A ladder drops down in front of him and he starts to climb it and as he is pulled up he realises that he is entering a helicopter. The gunner on the side pauses his firing as he assists Chris in getting inside. “Package is secured, sir!”

Chris sits up on the floor of the helicopter and his eyes widen when he sees whose feet he is sitting at. He holds the FWA World Championship close to his chest.

“Hello, Mister Peacock.”

Rupert Watkins.

“FUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUCCCKKKKKK!!”

“That’s the end of the movie!”

We now see James in his set once again, and his Chris Peacock cosplay has now been made to look even more like the movie counterpart with splatters of blood and gore on him.

“A lot of people wrestled with death in ‘Dance ‘Til You’re Dead’, but how many? Let’s find out and head to the numbers?”

A zombified head is thrown at James from off-screen and he catches it and pretends that it is trying to bite his hand to mirror Tommy Bedlam’s death scene in the movie, before he screams and exits to the right of the screen.

THE NUMBERS

James appears once again against a white backdrop and a number of stick people, coloured in blue, red and grey as James begins to talk once again.

“A total of sixty-nine people died in ‘Dance ‘Til You’re Dead’... nice. There were ten men, two women and a whole lot of unidentifiable corpses meaning that our pie chart is hella grey! With a total run time of one-hundred and four minutes, that equates to a kill every one point five minutes!”

The bodies turn into a gender-sorted pie chart and then the video cuts to a replay of Reagan Cole hitting his German Suplex on a zombie, with a small golden graphic in the corner of the frame.

“The golden chainsaw for the coolest kill goes to Reagan Cole. I love the German Suplex to the zombie that precedes it! Give me more wrestling zombies, dammit!”

Now we are shown Ratin Mikichin’s death once again and a silver graphic accompanying it.

“The dull machete for lamest kill goes to Ratin Mikichin, because his inclusion in the movie made no damn sense!”

James is back in his studio wearing a broad grin and he bops slightly underneath the spinning disco ball above his head.

“So, there we have it. ‘Dance ‘Til You’re Dead was released in 2024 and from a filmmaking perspective, it wasn’t that great! So I don’t think it comes as a surprise that there are no plans for Allen Price to make any more movies any time soon. Who knows what the future holds though? Until then, I’m James A. Janisse and this has been the Kill Count.”

 

Death Walker

Better Known As King Of Armageddon | Trapped In Darkness
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…And So Now, It Finally Happens

The scene snaps in and there's a darkness surrounding whatever room this is. And with the only light shining from the outdoor flood light filtering in through the steel intake louver along a concrete wall. Then comes a fading transition from a closeup of this vent to putting about a 30 foot distance away from it. So that in the center of the perspective is our dark warrior who happens to be sitting silently in a steel folding chair, shirtless, hunched over, elbows on each knee of his ripped up black jeans with his fingers interlaced and his head hung down as to stare at the floor between his feet…

Suddenly, a set of footsteps echoes throughout this big empty space as someone or even something approaches. In his regular black hooded cloak, The Dark Guardian makes his way into plain view and stops right in front of a meditating Darius Wright. However, The Dark Guardian takes a minute before turning to face the camera (only showing the usual lower half of his face, that is).

The Dark Guardian: “Well hello there, boys and girls. Now I know we usually do this whole thing differently… with the back and forth between me and my Dark Traveler before bringing you all into the psyche and past of this man known as Darius Wright. But I-”

Darius lets out a mild but clear groan as to implicate something.

TDG: “My apologies… WE thought… it would be more suitable to have a more direct conversation with each and every one of you… especially to the 3 opponents that The Dark Traveler will soon be facing in this year's pay-per-view event, Back in Town taking place in Denver, Colorado. And speaking of those guys… and girl… that are still rattled by what occurred this past Fight Night where the new and improved Darius Wright rose to the occasion and earned an outstanding victory as well as made a loud statement… I would like to just say, there is plenty more mayhem to come that Sunday at Back in Town.


Which brings us back to the word ‘rattled’… since the last thing that happened after that match was Jason Randall getting his retaliation in the form of hitting Snake Eyes onto an unexpecting Darius Wright. I gotta say… not bad, not bad at all… he saw the moment, established his approach and promptly struck. That was pretty smart of you but come Back in Town… in a fatal 4-way match for the FWA Television championship, you're going to need much more than that to stop what's arriving that night. For you see… this may very well be the last time we all have the pleasure of getting to know that ‘Darius Wright’. But what do I mean by that?!”

The Dark Traveler steps right up to the camera and with the upper part of his face remaining unseen, he speaks again…

TDG: “What I mean is… my young hellraiser here is hungry for gold again! Now to be honest, he wasn't expecting for this opportunity to present itself so soon… BUT now that it has… there is no way in HELL THAT HE’S NOT GOING TO DO EVERYTHING IN HIS POWER TO SNATCH IT UP! Because the ring rust… it has magically been scraped off, the focus has been better resharpened… and the man that we have just introduced is rebuilt into the best version of himself. That's if we can even refer to him as… man or Darius Wright for that matter anymore. But I’ve already said too much already… Let's get back on task, there's Back in Town… four decorated performers, one match and only one pinfall or submission… to own championship gold.


And so the last time that he had a match with you 3… even though it was a ‘tag team match’, I simply explained to my Lord about your strategies. And how your strategies up against his objectives could be all of your downfall. And I hate to say I told you so but… but I'll have the good people remind you of that themselves as day by day we get closer to the all-out battle. However this time… this time we're going to focus on something else that we noticed during the last encounters. You see because while my Dark Traveler placed his hands upon each of you… he picked up on something within each of you, something he himself also must deal with. And that thing is… desire, individually unique desires in each and every one of you.

Now there are at most 16 types of desires and although I would love to say that we all have just one at a time, the truth is that there are several of them that we deal with if not all of them at their necessary time or situation. But what was so distinct for Darius as he engaged with each of you is that it was one desire that stood out amongst the others.”

The Dark Guardian turns his head back at his concentrating Lord and asks a question.

TDG: “My Lord, did you finalize what you discovered about your opponents?”

Darius doesn't lift his head or respond in words but rather reaches behind his back for something. Shortly after, a thick but small book is thrown out before the feet of The Dark Guardian. And when the advisor sees the book, he squats down and picks it up. As he opens to the most recent pages, he reads what he sees written…

TDG: “Aaaaaahh ah ha, so we’ll start with Shawn Summers… ‘Mr. Summers has yet to make his intentions clear. But he continues to make the current champion his own personal punching bag. Leading us to believe that he is doing this out of vengeance. However, we know this not to be true as his timing as well as actions seem inaccurate. So we deduce that his deep desire is… Power or even Status and that's not to say that others like Acceptance, Saving and Idealism aren't also connected’. This is the energy that was revealed the night of Fight Night: Final Four.”

The Dark Guardian flips through a few more pages and reads aloud once he finds the next section on the next opponent.

TDG: “Hmmmm… I remind you that these are just what has been revealed in Darius’s own opinion. Nothing is set in stone as we have so many desires that we aim to achieve everyday. So next we haaaaaaave… uhhh… ahhh Mr. Randall… it says, ‘Jason Randall has found himself in the middle of a battle and chose to challenge both the former and current champion. Unexpectedly, giving us all more to think about with this FWA Television Championship and leaving his emotions in check or at least most of the time… From what I can tell as I've been the one to agitate him as of late, I’d say his deep desire is… Physical Exercise. This means that he is using this opportunity as more motivation for strength and energy. And given his recent track record, this could be exactly what he needs right now. But this is not about proving it to others or himself. But rather it is also the desire referred to as Eating, which means he has that hunger and survival as I, Darius can understand since I too have that hunger at the moment. I'm hoping that he doesn't expect to use these desires of Power, meaning leadership and influence… Independence, that one is about freedom and self-reliance… Status, I think that one is self explanatory… or Romance, which means he's simply driven by the beauty and flirting with the idea of becoming the new FWA Television champion’. Which brings us toooooo…”

Our narrator carefully turns a page and continues…

TDG: “Of course, the champion… who is just as dangerous as any man, that includes the men that she’ll be facing for her title defense. Says here, Vampyra… The… Dark Huntress huh? Ok. Umm… sorry here what is actually written. ‘Vampyra, The Dark Huntress appears to be holding a deep desire for Honor. This is the desire that displays your character, loyalty and morality but if only this was the truth about the champion… Instead, I’ve found that she has more of a deep desire towards Idealism. Where she’s fighting not only to defend what she has worked hard for but she is also ready to put an end to Shawn’s antics. That could be a costly distraction in a match of this magnitude. With that being said, these are other desires that she might be looking to utilize, Physical Activity (fighting with energy and adrenaline) and Tranquility (the want for mindfulness and peace). This is just my opinion on what I sensed so far.’


Ok so there you have it, we are done, we are finished, that's a wr-”

And just then Darius raises his head up and gives a deep exhale which makes his trusty advisor turn to him again. Then he looks back at the camera to address whoever is watching this.

TDG: “...alright, alright… some of you wanna know what would Darius’s deep desire possibly be.”

With an unenthusiastic page turn, The Dark Guardian goes back to reading what Darius has written… even about himself. The Dark Guardian takes a look at what he added about his own desires.

TDG: “uhhhhhh… ok here we go, ‘As for myself, I had to really pay attention to what seems to be my own deep desire. The one that stuck out the most out of the other 15 is… Order. Simply put, I desire to create my own order, an empire if you will. Not with any particular wrestlers at this time but with all of these welcoming souls that are watching what Darius Wright does, week after week after week… Sure, some of you souls might suggest that this is the same as the desire of Power or Acceptance or Status or maybe Social Contact. But I can assure these things… I am not looking for anyone's approval nor am I looking to keep up a social status or make friends. What I am offering…’”

The man that's been staring into the souls of his viewers, gets up to his feet and pushes the steel chair over with intensity. The chair clangs noisily as he steps up a bit and huffs repeatedly like he's about to rage. Trying not to miss a beat as he watched his Dark Traveler react, The Dark Guardian goes on with his reading.

TDG: “...What I am offering… is a chance to join me… in the endless amount of dark expeditions along the way. To be a part of a flock, a pack of rebellious souls that together we combine our dark spirits and we show no sympathy for no one else outside of yours truly. So my desire for Order is what I'm fueling myself with, in winning this first championship in three years. In the past, I was a threat feeding off Vengeance… Power… Acceptance and Status but never Order. However this time… this time I’m doing things completely different… this time I’m not rushing… this time I’m prepared to create an empire… MY empire. So as much as the desire of Saving (collecting) and Eating (hunting/hunger) were the initial desires leading up to this, I believe it is time for the whole world to witness… the terrors of darkness.’...this is masterful, my Lord. Soon they'll get the real message…”

Darius is still huffing as his chest heaves and that face presents a more murderous stare even closer in the camera. It's as if he is pushing his face into the frame while his mentor grabs his arm to pull him away.

TDG: “Calm down, My Lord. There will be plenty of time to creep out your loyal followers as we begin our era of destruction and turmoil. Hey… how about we give the dark souls and your adversaries a look into more of your darkness, hmm? A brief vision… for good times sake? Yeah? Alright here we go.”

And just then the camera goes into a hazy effect as it slumps over to the right like a drunk guy after seeing who can drink the most liquor. It even tries to catch itself from falling to the ground, perhaps the camera person has somehow been drugged??

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



The scene fades to black with sirens and some voices from a CB radio deafening the ears. A person getting into a car slams their door shut followed by another and the view is regained…

We are shown from the back seat of a car, a cop car. The person whose eyes we are lended, sits up rotating the view from being 90 degrees clockwise to right side up. The person looks down at their legs, feet, arms and hands to realize that they are a child in pajamas. The child crawls over to the left of the backseat to get to the other side. Gripping the door’s armrest and using it to boost themselves up to look out the window, they notice that they are a little boy through the slight reflection from the window. Now he looks outside and he sees… a burning house as several firefighters work to put out the flames.

Police Officer 1: “Ooooooohh goddamn, that's a nasty fire there!”

Police Officer 2: “If you think that's bad, you should see the two bodies that they pulled out.”

PO1: “I heard the fire burned them right through within a matter of seconds. They didn't even have enough time to roll around and try to put it out.”

PO2: “By the way, Capt' said we need to head back to the precinct with the kid.”

PO1: “You mean the little shit who miraculously survived this so-called ‘unforeseen disaster’?”

PO2: “Hey man, take it easy. I think he just came to… hey kid, are you alright?”

The police officer sitting in the front passenger seat, turns back to look as the other uses the rearview mirror.

PO1: “I'm telling you I don't buy this innocent act. 4 years old or not, that pint-sized demon ignited the spark that caused that fire.”

PO2: “And how can you prove that?! Huh? Do you got video footage? Did you catch the little guy red handed?! I think not, so knock it off… Hey kid, sit back. We’re about to take off.”

The boy just looks at both officers before sadness rushes over him as he can only imagine what might have happened to his parents. The driving officer pulls away from the horrific site and possible crime scene as the two carry on with their conversation.

PO2: “Hey, it's gonna be okay, little guy. We're gonna take care of him.”

PO1: “Yeah if you mean throw the book at him for arson and first degree murder.”

PO2: “What the fu- what the hell is the matter with you? Just tell me now that you hate kids or is it because he's black?”

PO1: “It has nothing to do with his race. I'm just speaking with my gut feeling and that feeling is telling me that who we got right there in our backseat is Damien… from that movie, The Omen.”

The squad car breezes through the few uncongested streets of Los Angeles as they get closer to their headquarters.

PO2: “Well do me a favor, will ya? Use that gut feeling to choose where we go for lunch.”

PO1: “Oh aren't you just the funniest man alive! Mock me all you want, something doesn't add up.”

The driver chuckles but wants to get more conversation out of his partner.

PO2: “Ok so what did you figure out, Columbo?”

PO1: “More like what I haven't figured out… because if he was inside that home with- um, the others then why in the hell is there no burns… no ash… no trace of nothing on him? You saw the paramedics do a thorough checkup on him as he had passed out and he hadn't even inhaled any of the smoke from the big blaze.”

PO2: “Well… well maybe he's just lucky I guess.”

PO1: “Oh he's lucky, you guess? He just survived that fire perfectly intact? The fire that burned down his entire house with his parents?! Yeah partner, you're getting slower at your age.”

PO2: “...”

The driver takes another look at the kid who is looking out the side window, saddened by the confirmed news of his now deceased parents. The officer just drives in silence as there's nothing else he wants to talk about especially in front of this little boy. They pull up to their precinct and they escort the boy inside. Fading out the scene to bring us back with a fade in. It happens to be hours later…

PO2: “Yeah he's right over.”

The view blinks a few times before clearing up and straightening as well. The boy looks up from the bench that he took a nap on. When he looks at a woman in a slate gray business blazer with skirt to match, white blouse and black short heels. She walks right over to him as he rubs each of his eyelids. She takes a seat right next to the boy and the view changes from what the boy sees to looking at the concerned police officer.

PO2: “Maybe this is for the best, I mean he doesn't seem to have any other family. At least not any that he can recall… I just hope he gets the help he needs. A kid like that can either grow up to become a pillar of his community or slip through the cracks and become a monster. One that the world has yet to see or experience…”

PO1: “Ahhh give up the optimism, we both know how this story goes and how it eventually ends. That kid is gonna turn out exactly how he was created to be… which is evil, pure evil.”

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

The scene slides out to the left as the original one slides in from the right of the screen, where The Dark Traveler and his Dark Guardian are standing up.

TDG: “So to wrap things up, we're looking forward to a catastrophic battle in Denver because as Darius has written… we all have our desires. Some desires are stronger than others, some are more important than the ones we assume that are. But his desire… his desire is not only strong and it is not to solely empower himself but the dark souls around the world that have been craving someone to worship for his evil deeds. Someone who understands what hell on Earth truly is, someone who knows what HELL precisely is and that someone is going to reveal his true identity at Back in Town.


You got anything that you wanna say to the people or your… fellow competitors, my Lord?”

Darius begins to smirk before growling real low as it increases and he lets out a frightening scream. Then he marches toward the camera person and smacks the camera out of their grasp and stomps on it nonstop. The Dark Guardian delivers some last advice to the camera person…



TDG: “GET OUT!! GET THE FUCK OUT! …Ok, My Lord… it’s ok, let's prepare your new look… the new you.”

And as the camera lays on the floor upside down with a smashed-in lens that the viewers can still kind of look through, we can hear The Dark Guardian laughing maniacally behind the music playing.
 
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Jimmy King

It’s Britney, bitch
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“Jack, wake up!”

Jackson Fenix is soundly asleep on the couch in his home, and sitting next to him is Nate Savage. Nate and Jackson have chosen this time to study their opponents for their next match with The Connection, so they’ve been watching matches with The Connection as well as singles matches from each member. Jackson is so enthralled by this that he has dozed off during a Michelle match, much to Nate’s frustration, who has decided to shake his friend awake.

Nate Savage: “Wake up, Jack!”

Jackson is awake now and brushes Nate off of him. He looks annoyed that he was woken up by Nate.

Jackson Fenix: “Geez, I don’t think you had to do that; I was awake!”

Nate scoffs at this and looks at Jackson with a shake of his head.

Nate Savage: “Oh? I heard you snoring!”

Jackson Fenix: “I wasn’t snoring! And I wasn’t sleeping; I was resting my eyes!”

Nate Savage: “Whatever, man, come on, we have to take this seriously if we want to beat The Connection!”

Jackson Fenix: “Do we have to?! You heard what Michelle said about us in that interview; she’s not taking us seriously!”

Nate Savage: “That’s precisely why we SHOULD take this seriously and study if we want to beat them!”

Jackson Fenix: “She thinks she’s so smart using her big words! How did she know I said Nephews with a lowercase n?!”

Nate Savage: “Jack, please, that’s not important. What is important is we study these matches…”

Jackson Fenix: “If she’s so smart, then how come she didn’t know you were in CWA? Wasn’t she there at the same time as you?”

Nate Savage: “Yes, she was there at the same time as me. She knew I was there; she was trying to get in my head when she said that.”

Jackson Fenix: “Whatever, dude, I don’t think she’s as smart as she lets on, and what’s the deal with that Gerald guy? He follows her around like some lost puppy dog!”

Nate Savage: “We’re watching these matches to find what his deal is. To know what to expect when we get in the ring with him.”

Jackson Fenix: “I guess so, but isn’t studying matches like one of those things? What’s the word? Cli…cli…”

Nate Savage: “I think the word you’re looking for is cliche, and yes, I suppose it is cliche, but do you have any better ideas on what we should do for this promo?”

Jackson Fenix: “As a matter of fact, I do have an idea.”

Nate Savage: “That was a rhetorical question, Jack. No offense, but I don’t think we should go along with your ideas. They haven’t always worked out.”


Fenix is appalled by this revelation from his friend.

Jackson Fenix: “What?! Come on, dude! I won the match that got us this match! Do you know what I went through to get it?!”

Nate Savage: “Yeah, you beat a witch and a lumberjack.”

Jackson Fenix: “No, well yeah, but no, I mean my trip to the woods. I swear that happened dude! Why doesn’t anyone believe me?!”


Nate isn’t listening as he’s considering something.

Nate Savage: To be fair, you did win that match, which got us this opportunity. It wouldn’t hurt if we went along with one of your ideas. This portion of the promo won’t do us any favors, so that we could get some further comedy relief in the second half. That usually gains us some favor, depending on who is grading this.”

Jackson Fenix: “I don’t know what you’re talking about, but what I do know is that I have the best idea!”

Nate Savage: “What’s the worst that can go wrong?”


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

Jackson Fenix & Nate Savage
In
The Happiest Place on Earth

Nate Savage: “Disneyland? This is your idea?”


Jackson seems far more excited about being at Disneyland. The two of them stood at the entrance near the gated grass area that had Mickey Mouse in the grass.

Jackson Fenix: “Come on, dude, it’ll be fun! We need to let off some steam before our big match, and what better way than to spend the day at the happiest place on earth!”

Nate Savage: “I don’t know, I always imagined my first time experiencing Disneyland would be with my kids. Also, we should be focused on our match instead of wasting time here.”

Jackson Fenix: “You know what? You’re sounding a lot like Michelle does whenever Gerald and her go on one of their adventures. She’s always complaining about something or taking everything so seriously, come on, dude, lighten up a little!”

Nate Savage: “I guess if I’m the Michelle of our team, then that makes you Gerald.”


Fenix scoffs at that with a wave of his hand at Nate.

Jackson Fenix: “What? No way! I’m way cooler than that goober! I’m not a goody-two-shoes either!”

Nate Savage: “Whatever you say, Gerald.”

Jackson Fenix: “Whatever, look, I’m going to go wait in line for some autographs that I need for my autograph book.”


Jackson whips out his Disney autograph book and his eyes light up when he looks at it. The book seems ragged and rundown, but it’s apparent that it’s something Jackson cherishes.

Jackson Fenix: “I just need Mickey’s autograph, and it’s complete!”

Nate Savage: “I would have never pegged you as someone taking this so seriously, and you don’t have Mickey’s autograph? That should’ve been the first one you got”

Jackson Fenix: “You’d think, but for some reason, I could never get him. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve had this book, and every time I seem to just miss out on getting Mickey’s autograph, but today is the day I can just feel it!”

Nate Savage: “Well, I can just feel that is a disaster waiting to happen. Especially given your track record with beloved children’s characters.”

Jackson Fenix: “Gee, thanks for the vote of confidence!”


Jackson dejectedly walks away, leaving Nate alone.

Nate Savage: “Jack, come on, I didn’t mean anything by it!”

Jackson was already gone, disappeared into the sea of people.

Nate Savage: “Great, now what?”


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

Nate has been wandering around the park, unsure of where he’s at. He wishes that Jackson hadn’t left him alone, considering he’s never been here. It was partially his fault for making that remark about Jackson, but was he wrong? He doesn’t think so. Regardless, he knows he’ll have to make it up to Jackson somehow for them to be on the same page for their match with The Connection.

Something eventually catches Nate’s eye though. It’s the line for a specific ride, Buzz Lightyear’s Astro Blasters. He always did kind of like Toy Story, which is ironic considering his history with well-known Toy Story fanatic Jeremy Best, but unlike Jeremy, he preferred Buzz over Woody.

Nate shrugs his shoulders and waits in line for a bit. The line isn’t that long, surprisingly, and eventually, it’s Nate’s turn. He gets on the ride, and immediately he’s immersed init. He starts shooting away at any enemy he sees with the fake laser blaster attached to the buggy he’s in.

Soon, he begins to picture the enemies as Michelle and Gerald.

Nate Savage: “Take that, Michelle! You’re not so smart now, are you?! No, because I just blasted you!”

The people in the buggies around Nate give him weird looks, but he doesn’t seem to notice.

Nate Savage: “I got you too, Gerald! All of your high-flying antics are no match for my blasting skills! You and Michelle will go down to Back in Town! This is our time, and this is The Undisputed Alliance’s time!”

The ride ends, and as soon as Nate exits his buggy, he makes his way back over to the line area to get back on, but now the line has grown exponentially now. Nate thinks to himself ” What would Jackson do?”

Nate tries to cut his way through the line, and he almost gets away with it until he cuts in line in front of a small child and her father. The little girl immediately begins to cry, and that makes Nate think of his daughter, so now he feels guilty for making this little girl cry, and all the while, her father is angry.

” Hey pal, what gives?! Cutting in front of a kid and making her cry! You must feel like a real big man, huh?!”

Nate Savage: “Hey, look man, I’m sorry but…”

”But what? Do you get off on making kids cry? Is that it?”


Nate tries to defend himself, but before he can, they’re interrupted by park security.

”What seems to be the problem here?”

” This guy cut in front of my kid and me!”

” Sir, I’m going to need you to go to the back of the line and wait like everyone else, please.”

Nate Savage: “Look, it wasn’t my intention to make the kid cry, but in my defense, this is my first time, and I liked the ride, and I didn’t feel like waiting. I’ve always had to wait for things in life, and for once, I didn’t want to wait. I’m sick of waiting for everyone to take Jackson and me as a serious threat.”

“Everyone thinks that we’re some sort of joke. This punchline. Maybe they’re right; who knows? I’m sick of it, though! I’m sick of it all, so I’m not going to sit at the back of the line like some schlub because I’ve been waiting at the back of the line for far too long!”


The man and the security guard look at Nate as if he’s the most insane person they’ve ever met. The security guard doesn’t say a word, takes Nate by the shoulder, and escorts him away from the ride.


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

Jackson Fenix: “This is it! There’s Mickey, now is my chance to get his autograph!”

Jackson goes to wait in line to meet Mickey, and while he waits, he begins to think to himself. He thinks about Nate and wishes Nate would be more considerate of his feelings. Jackson may not like to show it or admit it, but he has feelings too. Jackson also knew about how important this upcoming match was to Nate, but it was just as important to him too. He wanted to hold championship gold again just as much as Nate did. He wanted their team to be taken seriously too.

He’s tired of people like Michelle not taking him or Nate seriously. He’s going to make sure that she eats her words and that she regrets underestimating them. She has another match anyway, and it would be pretty lame if she won both, especially this one. He was going to shut her up, and also show Nate he’s not some geek like Gerald. Gerald is nothing more than Michelle’s lapdog. Jackson is more than that in regard to Nate.

Jackson is so lost in his thoughts that he doesn’t see that Mickey is gone. Eventually. he does notice, and he’s not happy. He looks around and sees Mickey halfway away from him, so he chases Mickey down.

Jackson Fenix: “Hey Mickey, wait up!”

Mickey stops and turns around to see Jackson running toward him. Jackson stops and catches his breath before he speaks.

Jackson Fenix: “Hey Mickey, what gives dude?! I’ve been waiting since I was a kid to get your autograph, and I was this close before you walked away! I’m not letting this slip by; no way! Just like I won’t let this title opportunity slip by! Nate and I are going to win at Back in Town, and we’ll be the best tag team champions in FWA history!”

Mickey takes the autograph book from Jackson, who isn’t paying attention as he goes on and on.

Jackson Fenix: “We’ll stick it to everyone that has ever doubted us! Michelle will feel pretty stupid when we leave Denver with the titles, and Gerald, I don’t know how he’ll feel, but he probably won’t be happy either.”

Mickey hands the book back to Jackson and waves at him before walking away. Jackson finally stops talking and sees Mickey signed his book. Jackson looks back up at Mickey and his face is lit up with a bright smile.

Jackson Fenix: “Thank you so much, Mickey; youhave no idea how much this means to me! It means just as much as Nate and winning the tag team titles!”

Just then, Nate shows up behind Jackson. Jackson turns around and finds his friend.

Jackson Fenix: “Hey, you won’t believe it! I got Mickey’s autograph!”

Nate Savage: “That’s great; I made a kid cry.”

Jackson Fenix: “I don’t want to ask, but that sounds like something I would do.”

Nate Savage: “Listen, I’m sorry I take your feelings into account, and I’m sorry for what I said. Despite what happened, I did have fun at that Astro Blasters ride.”

Jackson Fenix: “Awesome, man, and it’s okay. I know how much this match means to you. It means a lot to me too. It means a lot to us, I should say. Who knows if we’ll ever get another shot like this? It’s time we show everyone that we’re more than a joke.”


They shake hands in agreement.

”Our time”
 
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