Meltdown XXXI & Fallout 031 || Promo Thread

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Jimmy King

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The promo deadlines for both shows are:

Sunday 18th June, 2023 at 23:59 Pacific Time.
Monday 19th June, 2023 at 03:00(am) Eastern.
Monday 19th June, 2023 at 08:00(am) UK.
Monday 19th June, 2023 at 10:00(am) Turkey.
Monday 19th June, 2023 at 17:00 Melbourne.

There will be no extensions. Good luck!​



Link to backed up PDF promos: here!
 
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Tommy Bedlam

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The Man Atop Mount Summers

CHAPTER 1: Mount Summers, or Mount Parr?
In the vast expanse of rugged and untamed land, stood Mount Summers. People had often tried to climb the mountain, but they continually came up short in their quests. According to legend, one man had truly conquered the mountain. There had been some others who climbed among its snow-covered rocks, but very few of them were able to reach the peak. Of the ones who did reach the crest of Mount Summers, even fewer of them had been able to stay there. That’s largely what made the story of Michael Parr so legendary. He had scaled the steep, rocky face of Mount Summers, and he had conquered it. Others had tried, and others had failed. Parr stood in rarified air when he crested its snow-capped peak.

Tommy Bedlam believed that he could replicate the success of Michael Parr. Actually, he believed that he could expound upon it. His weather-beaten face, framed by a wild mane of long hair that flew in the breeze, showed the signs of the battles he’d already taken on. He had won his fair share of those battles and he had lost a few. The victories brought about a desire to do better, and the losses caused him to look for ways to avoid the pain that he felt after each of them.

Mount Summers was certainly like nothing he had ever faced before, but in his heart burned an unwavering flame of determination. That determination pushed him to his limits and often beyond them. Tommy knew if he was going to etch his name into the tapestry of legends who had conquered the mountain, he would need more than determination. Destiny awaited at the top of the mountain. Immortality resided at its peak.

At the foot of Mount Summers, stood a humble outpost. The old man who ran the outpost had lived near the foot of the mountain for most of his life. He had tried to climb mountains like Mount Summers in the past, but a terrifying leg injury left him unable to continue climbing. His passion for the sport never subsided, so he shifted his focus to helping newer climbers conquer the mountains that they needed to climb. His outpost served as both a place for climbers to purchase last-minute supplies and rations that they needed. He offered much more than that, though. Rocco’s most valuable resources couldn’t be bought and sold. They weren’t tents, MREs, or fire starters. Instead, Rocco’s most valuable assets were his words.

Weathered and wise, Rocco was known throughout the region as the keeper of forgotten tales. His eyes held the weight of countless stories, etched in the lines and creases of a life spent in the shadow of the mighty peak.

As Tommy approached Rocco's humble stall, his heart filled with a blend of caution and anticipation. He recognized the gleam of recognition in Rocco's eyes, acknowledging the fire that burned within Tommy's own. The cowboy admired the rugged wisdom that emanated from the old guide, aware that Rocco's expertise was born from years of watching climbers come and go, some victorious, but most defeated.

Their conversation began in hushed tones, surrounded by the whispers of the wind and the distant crackling of the campfire. Rocco, his voice tinged with a mix of reverence and caution, spoke of the mountain's untamed soul. He captivated Tommy with tales of daring souls who had attempted the ascent, their dreams shattered amidst the unforgiving snow and biting cold.

"Mount Summers is no ordinary mountain, Tommy," Rocco warned, his gaze fixed upon the distant peak. "It has claimed the hopes and aspirations of many who sought to conquer its icy grasp. The mountain demands respect, and those who fail to heed its call pay the price."

Tommy nodded, his eyes locked onto the treacherous heights that loomed above. He understood the risks, but his determination was unyielding. "I know, Rocco," he replied, his voice filled with quiet resolve. "But my journey is different. I am not like those who came before me. I’m gonna climb this mountain, Rocco. I’m gonna stand on top of it, and I’m gonna know that it’s mine, forever.”

“I’m sure you’ve heard the stories of Michael Parr.”

Tommy nodded and gave Rocco a knowing look.

“He’s the last person to truly conquer this mountain, Tommy. He went up there, and by hell, I still don’t know how, but he did it. It may bear Summers’ name, but as far as I’m concerned, that’s Michael Parr’s mountain. If you’re really going to make it yours, you’re gonna have to do more than climb that big sumbitch of a rock. You’re gonna have to take it from Parr. Speaking of names, have you ever heard how why it’s called Mount Summers?”

“No, I can’t say that I have.”

“You know, a lot of times they name mountains after saints. Mount Saint Helen, Mount Saint Jacinto. That Summers guy who this one is named after, he’s a terrible son of a bitch. An absolute bastard of a man.”

“How did he get a mountain named after him?”

“Hell, nobody said they have to name mountains after good people. Last month, they renamed Mount Swastika up in Oregon. They call it Halo Mountain now. I guess they somebody figured if you could name a mountain after a fuckin’ swastika, they could name one after this Summers guy. Word is, he tried to get them to call it Mount Saint Summers. Real egomaniac, that Summers guy is. Anyway, I've heard that he pushed for Mount Saint Summers, but they told him there was no way in hell they were sainting anything with his name in it, so they settled on this."


Rocco studied Tommy, his gaze assessing the fire that burned within him. He recognized the unique spark of determination that set him apart from the others. "You have the heart of a true adventurer, Tommy," Rocco said, his voice tinged with admiration. "You possess a spirit that yearns for the unknown, a spirit that can forge its own path even amidst the unforgiving cold. But remember, even the strongest can falter. The mountain shows no mercy."

“So I’ve heard.”

“One more thing, kid. Is there anybody you want me to call? You know, if you don’t make it back down the mountain.”

“Yea. As a matter of fact, I do.”


Rocco handed Tommy a notepad and an ink pen. The climber scribbled a phone number on it and slid the pad back across the counter.

“Actually, Rocco. I need you to do me a favor.”

“I’ll do what I can.”

“Call that number in three days. I have a satellite phone in my bag, and when I climb this mountain and take it from Parr, I’m gonna call down here. No offense, old timer, but I’d really like for my first phone call to be with her.”


Rocco chuckled.

“No offense taken, young man. You call this number anytime, day or night. I’ll make sure she’s standing here and ready to answer it in 72 hours.”

A nod of acknowledgment passed between the two men, an unspoken bond forged in that solitary moment. Tommy knew that Rocco's guidance would be invaluable for his journey, but he also understood that his climb was a deeply personal endeavor, a testament to his adventurous spirit and unyielding determination.

With a firm handshake and a silent understanding, Tommy bid farewell to Rocco, setting his sights on the daunting path that lay before him. As he took his first steps towards the mountain's base, he carried within him the weight of Rocco's words, knowing that while he trusted the guide's expertise, his climb would be a solitary dance between himself and the mountain's icy grip.

And so, with each heartbeat echoing like a drum in his chest, Tommy embarked on his solitary ascent, ready to embrace the challenge, aware that his climb would be unlike any other. For he carried within him the knowledge that to conquer the mountain, he had to conquer himself first.

With each step taken toward the foot of the mountain, Tommy felt the weight of his determination grow heavier. He embraced the challenges that lay ahead, knowing that they would forge him into a man of unwavering resolve. He had a fiancé at home and a baby on the way. He wanted to be able to share the stories of his daring climb and ultimate victory with them. Outside of those two, Tommy had no family to speak of, which came with a unique list of pros and cons.

On the one hand, it meant that Tommy didn’t have a lot of people supporting him. On the other, it meant that he didn’t have a long list of people he was accountable to. If the mountain defeated him, or if Parr destroyed him at the top, Randi, his fiancé, would be hurt, but eventually, she would move on. His son, who was yet to be born, would simply not know him. However, the fact that Tommy only had those two meant that he was even more committed to making them proud. Without them, he had nothing.

The tales of countless souls who had succumbed to the mountain's icy grip served as a reminder of the arduous path he was about to tread, but they only fueled his eagerness to face the unforgiving elements that awaited him.

Tommy's spirit burned bright, a beacon of courage and daring amidst the frozen wilderness. He reveled in the knowledge that the mountain would not yield easily, that every icy gust and treacherous crevice would test his endurance and push him to the very edge of his limits. But it was precisely this challenge, this battle against the forces of nature, that called to him with such fervor.

He knew that this climb would be a solitary dance between himself and the mountain, a dance that would demand his utmost focus and unwavering determination. No companions, no distractions; just the sound of his own breathing mingling with the howling wind, as he forged his path through the frigid labyrinth of ice and snow.

And so, with a heart ablaze and a spirit untamed, Tommy set foot upon the path that led to the summit of Mount Summers. The echoes of his footsteps reverberated through the solitude, each one a testament to his indomitable will. He was ready to embrace the challenge that awaited him, knowing that his journey up the mountain was not just a physical feat, but a journey of self-discovery and triumph over the boundaries of his own limitations.

CHAPTER 2: The Ascent Begins
With his gaze fixed upon the snowy peak, Tommy took a deep breath, inhaling the crisp air that whispered tales of countless souls who had attempted the climb. He knew that his journey would be arduous, fraught with peril and doubt, but he embraced it all with open arms. For it was in this daunting task that he would find not only the conqueror within but also the boundless beauty and the final foe that awaited him atop the majestic crown of Mount Summers.

As Tommy ventured deeper into the icy terrain of Mount Summers, the air grew colder, biting at his skin with an unforgiving chill. The mountain demanded his utmost vigilance, and he remained alert to every sound and movement that echoed through the silent expanse. It was during this first leg of his climb that fate led him to a remarkable discovery.

Amidst the powdery snow, Tommy's keen eyes spotted a forgotten artifact left behind by a previous climber—a worn and weathered grey sweatshirt. As he reached down to inspect it, he noticed a piece of paper tucked inside one of its pockets. Unfolding it, he read the words scrawled upon it: "As I Lay Dying." The message held a haunting weight, an echo of lost dreams and untold stories. He stuffed the sweatshirt into his gear bag and folded the note, placing it in the inner pocket of his parka. The person who had left it behind didn’t deserve to have their lives forgotten in the snowy waves that blustered across the face of the mountain.

Pressing onward, his breath visible in the crisp mountain air, Tommy's senses remained heightened. The mountain's unforgiving nature had taught him to anticipate the unexpected. And soon, his vigilance would be put to the test.

In a secluded nook, nestled among jagged rocks, he came face to face with a formidable wild beast, one of the grizzly bears that made its home on the mountain. Its fierce eyes gleamed with predatory hunger. The beast lunged forward, claws slashing through the frigid air. With primal instincts and a surge of adrenaline, Tommy swiftly evaded its attack, his heart pounding in his chest.

Undeterred by the threat, Tommy's gaze locked with the creature's, his rugged determination unyielding. In a display of raw strength and untamed ferocity, he engaged the beast in a battle for survival. Their bodies writhed and strained amidst the harsh backdrop of snow-covered peaks, the primal struggle echoing through the mountain's silent embrace.

With each passing moment, Tommy's resilience shone brightly, his hunting knife glinting in the pale light of the cloud-covered moon. The beast fought fiercely, its feral instincts driving its every move. Yet Tommy's determination burned like an untamed flame, guiding his every strike and evasive maneuver.

Finally, after a relentless struggle, Tommy's grip tightened around the beast's throat, overpowering it with sheer force. The creature's eyes met his, a mixture of defiance and surrender. With one swift and decisive motion, Tommy's hunting knife claimed victory, severing the bond between life and the wild.

Breathing heavily, Tommy stood amidst the triumph and bloodstained snow, a testament to his indomitable spirit. The same blood that dyed the undriven snow around the beast stained Tommy’s hands, face, and clothing. The encounter with the wild beast had tested his limits, reaffirming his resilience and determination. A sense of primal connection coursed through his veins, for he had faced the untamed essence of the mountain and emerged victorious.

As a few stars began to immerge from the cloudy night sky, providing a hint of illumination, Tommy knew that the harsh night awaited him. Gathering fallen branches and dry twigs, he built a fire, its crackling flames casting dancing shadows upon the surrounding rocks. The warmth it exuded chased away the bone-chilling cold, soothing his weary bones.

With reverence and gratitude, Tommy placed strips of the slain beast's meat upon a makeshift spit, the aroma of searing flesh mingling with the scent of the mountain. As he watched the flames lick hungrily at the meat, he reflected on the circle of life, the raw sustenance that the mountain had provided him.

The poetic irony of the moment wasn’t lost on Tommy. This mountain was either going to make him or break him, and the grizzly was a powerful reminder of that fact. One wrong move on his way up the mountain could be the end of Tommy. The fact that a force equally as dangerous awaited him at the peak was ever-present in his mind.

Sitting beside the roaring fire, he savored the cooked meat, his teeth sinking into the tender flesh that had once sought to end his journey prematurely. It was a meal of triumph and survival, a testament to his ability to conquer the challenges that lay in his path.

In the flickering firelight, Tommy found solace and strength, his gaze fixed upon the starry night sky above. The mountain had tested him, but he had proven himself worthy. As he settled into the embrace of the wilderness, he knew that his connection with the untamed majesty of Mount Summers grew deeper still.

And so, with a belly full of roasted meat and a renewed spirit, Tommy welcomed the night's embrace. He wrapped himself in the hide of the bear, adding an additional layer between himself and the force of nature that sought to destroy him, knowing that tomorrow would bring new challenges, new triumphs, and the continued ascent towards the pinnacle of Mount Summers.

CHAPTER 3: A Cacophony of Chaos
With the taste of victory lingering upon his lips, Tommy woke up to face a new day. The sun, while bright, offered very little warmth. The mountain was just as cold and harsh as it was on the first day of his climb. Tommy pressed forward, his boots crunching against the hardened snow. The mountain whispered secrets of those who had come before him, their failed attempts etched into the very fabric of the landscape. Yet, he remained undeterred, fueled by an adventurous spirit that burned within.

The bulk of the second day was largely uneventful, a welcome reprieve from the chaotic near-death experience of the night before. The powdery, fresh snow blew over the footprints of climbers who had come before. The boot prints were of all shapes and sizes, and they went in all different directions. There were a few instances in which Tommy was tempted to follow the trails provided by others. After all, at least one set of those prints had to belong to Michael Parr. He knew how to get to the top.

No. Tommy couldn’t follow in the steps of anyone else on his quest to the pinnacle. This journey was his and his alone.

Guided by the rhythm of his footsteps, Tommy's path led him to a hidden cave nestled within the heart of Mount Summers. Intrigued by the mysteries it held and the protection that it presumably would provide, he ventured into its depths, his heart thudding with anticipation. The air grew cooler, but at least there wasn’t any fresh snow falling on him. The dim light from the torch that Tommy had fashioned as the sun set behind the mountain gear cast eerie shadows upon the ancient walls.

As Tommy ventured deeper into the labyrinthine, his torch cast flickering shadows upon the ancient walls, he marveled at the sense of timelessness that permeated the air. The silence was broken only by the distant sound of dripping water and his steady footsteps echoing through the cavernous chamber.

Amidst the dimly lit recesses, his keen eyes caught sight of a stone pedestal adorned with intricate carvings. There, resting upon it, lay a large black mask, its golden accents shimmering in the faint light. Tommy reached out, his fingers grazing the cool surface of the mask as if sensing the power it possessed. He gently lifted it, marveling at its craftsmanship and the weight it held in his hands. Something inside him urged him to put it on. He couldn't explain it, but he knew that in addition to providing a layer against the bitter cold of night, he needed to put on the mask.

Beside the mask lay a tattered robe, its shades of green and black now faded with time. Tommy's fingers traced the worn fabric, feeling the stories embedded within each thread. With reverence, he draped the robe around his shoulders, its familiar weight comforting him like a shield against the elements.

As night fell upon the mountain, shrouding the world in darkness, Tommy sought refuge within the sanctuary of the cave. The dancing flames of his torch cast ethereal shadows upon the walls, their eerie dance matching the enigmatic mask adorning his face. At that moment, he felt a connection to something ancient, as if the spirits of past climbers whispered secrets to him through the shifting shadows.

But the mountain's tests were not over. Without warning, the tranquility shattered, replaced by a cacophony of chaos. The earth trembled beneath Tommy's feet, rocks dislodging from the cave's ceiling. Panic surged through his veins as he realized the imminent danger.

In a desperate scramble, he sought to escape the cascading rocks, his heart pounding in his chest. But amidst the chaos, fate dealt its cruel hand. A large rock crashed down, striking Tommy's back with a jarring force. Pain seared through his body, and for a moment, the world spun in disarray.

With a gritted determination, Tommy fought against the agony, refusing to succumb to the overwhelming odds. Bloodied and battered, he summoned every ounce of strength, pushing himself forward, step by agonizing step. The mountain had wounded him, but it would not claim him.

Each stride he took was a testament to his resilience, a battle cry against the adversity that threatened to derail his ascent. The pain gnawed at his every movement, but he pressed on, the summit of Mount Summers beckoning him with an irresistible allure.

Beneath a star-studded sky, with the wind whispering secrets and the moon casting its ethereal glow, Tommy emerged from the depths of the cave. His body bore the marks of his encounter with the falling rock, bruises, and gashes painting a portrait of his indomitable spirit.

As he stood there, surveying the rugged terrain that lay ahead, the black mask upon his face served as a symbol of defiance. It concealed the weariness etched upon his features, but it couldn't conceal the fire in his eyes, the unyielding determination that burned within.

With each labored breath and every step forward, Tommy embraced the pain and exhaustion as reminders of his unrelenting pursuit. The journey to the mountain's peak would be completed, even if it meant crawling, battered and bruised.

CHAPTER 4: A New Foe and an Old Friend
The morning of the third day dawned, Tommy keenly aware of how close he was getting to the top. He also knew that Rocco would be contacting Randi before long, telling her that Tommy had asked her to be there to answer his call from the apex.

The air grew thin and the surroundings grew desolate. The mountain had stripped away all signs of life, leaving only the stark beauty of rugged terrain and icy peaks. It felt as if nature itself held its breath in anticipation of Tommy's arrival.

Amid this solitary journey, an eerie silence enveloped the mountain. The only sign of life was a solitary crow perched upon a broken tree limb, wedged precariously in the snow. Its dark feathers contrasted starkly against the pristine white landscape, its watchful eyes seemingly following Tommy's every move.

Undeterred by the mountain's ominous silence, Tommy pressed forward, his every step a testament to his unyielding determination. As he neared the apex, his senses heightened, anticipating the culmination of his journey.

And there, amidst the rugged rocks and swirling mist, he discovered the purple mask, concealed within a hollow of the mountain. Its vibrant hues shone like a beacon, contrasting against the monochromatic landscape. Intricate patterns adorned its surface, reminiscent of a majestic cat, capturing the essence of the untamed wilderness.

Tommy carefully retrieved the mask, holding it in his weathered hands. Its weight felt significant, a symbol of his nearing triumph. He could almost taste the victory, a surge of adrenaline coursing through his veins.

With each passing moment, the mountain seemed to whisper secrets of its conquests, urging Tommy forward. The gusts of wind carried fragments of stories, the echoes of those who had attempted this formidable ascent before him. Yet, Tommy knew he was different. His spirit burned brighter, his determination unyielding, for he was on a quest that transcended mere conquest.

Every step brought him closer to the peak, but it also deepened his connection to the mountain itself. He could sense its power, its raw beauty, and its unforgiving nature. It was a dance of surrender and resilience, a communion between man and nature.

As Tommy climbed higher, the wind howled fiercely, a testament to the mountain's fury. The snow whipped around him, stinging his face and blurring his vision. But he pressed on, his body a testament to his unbreakable spirit.

Suddenly, a disturbance shattered the tranquility of the mountaintop. From the shadows emerged a weathered figure, an old climber from days gone by, named Jackson.

In his eyes, Tommy saw a mix of desperation and determination. Jackson, once a master of these treacherous slopes, sought to reclaim his former glory and halt Tommy's ascent. With a thunderous roar, he charged towards Tommy, his movements fueled by a deep-seated desire to reclaim his place in the annals of Mount Summers.

Tommy's reflexes kicked in, honed by days of traversing treacherous terrain. With a swift motion, he sidestepped Jackson's attack, his instincts, and agility prevailing in the face of the aging climber's assault. In a brief struggle, Tommy, driven by both self-preservation and the need to press onward, unleashed a surge of strength, hurling Jackson off balance.

Time seemed to slow as Jackson teetered on the edge of the precipice, his desperate grasp for purchase futile against the forces of gravity. With a final heave, Tommy sent Jackson tumbling down the mountain's unforgiving slopes.

There was a brief moment of silence, interrupted only by the distant echo of Jackson's fading cries. Tommy's heart pounded in his chest as he stared at the spot where Jackson had disappeared, his mind grappling with the gravity of what had just transpired.

Regaining his composure, Tommy inhaled a deep breath, the cold mountain air filling his lungs. His gaze returned to the summit, the ultimate prize that beckoned him forward. The encounter with Jackson served as a stark reminder that this journey was not only about conquering the physical challenges of the mountain but also about facing the inner battles that threatened to hold him back.

With newfound determination, Tommy turned his back on the precipice, resolute in his purpose. He would not be deterred by the shadows of the past. The legacy of those who came before him would serve as inspiration, but it was his own journey, his own triumph, that awaited him at the mountaintop.

And so, with steady footsteps and unwavering resolve, Tommy continued his ascent, leaving behind the echoes of Jackson's defiance. The mountain stood tall, its slopes challenging, its peaks demanding, but Tommy would not waver. He was on the cusp of something extraordinary, driven by a fire that burned brighter than ever before.

As Tommy reached the pinnacle of Mount Summers, a surge of triumph and anticipation coursed through his veins. The air crackled with tension as he stood at the precipice, gazing out at the breathtaking expanse of the world below. And just as he had expected, there stood Michael Parr, a figure of undeniable presence, his rugged demeanor a testament to the trials he had endured.

CHAPTER 5: Parr at the Peak
"I knew you'd come, Tommy," Michael said, a smirk playing on his lips. "In fact, I thought you would be here a couple of weeks ago."

Tommy's eyes narrowed, a wry smile curling upon his lips. "You're looking rough, Michael. You used to exude... excellence. Now I'm here for your spot."

A charged silence settled upon the mountaintop as the two men locked eyes, their shared determination radiating in the thin air. The winds whispered in anticipation, as if holding their breath, waiting for the clash between these formidable adversaries.

In a sudden surge of motion, the battle commenced. Their fists collided with thunderous force, each blow reverberating through the surrounding peaks. Their dance of conflict unfolded with primal ferocity and a fierce determination to emerge as the sole victor.

Tommy's long hair whipped in the wind as he unleashed a flurry of strikes, his movements honed by his journey up the mountain. Michael, no stranger to the rigors of this unforgiving realm, countered with calculated precision, his every move a testament to his experience.

The fight raged on, their bodies battered and bruised, their spirits unwavering. Blow after blow was exchanged, a symphony of power and resilience echoing through the mountain's heights. The clash of their wills reverberated in every strike, each man fighting for supremacy over this sacred domain.

As the sun began its descent, casting long shadows across the mountaintop, a decisive moment arrived. Tommy, driven by an unyielding fire within, summoned every ounce of strength and determination. With a final surge of power, he delivered a forceful blow that sent Michael stumbling, teetering on the edge of the precipice.

Their gazes locked once more, the weight of their rivalry palpable. The mountain itself seemed to hold its breath as Tommy seized the moment, his resolve unwavering. With a mighty heave, he hurled Michael Parr from the peak, watching as his adversary disappeared into the vast expanse below.

Silence enveloped the mountaintop, broken only by the whispering wind. Tommy stood alone, his chest heaving with exertion, his body battered and weary. The realization of his victory washed over him, mingled with a bittersweet sense of accomplishment.

In that solitary moment, Tommy knew he had conquered more than just Mount Summers. He had conquered his own doubts, fears, and limitations. He had proven to himself and to the mountain that he possessed the strength and resilience to rise above any challenge.

With a mix of reverence and awe, Tommy surveyed the vast expanse before him. The kingdom of Mount Summers lay at his feet, a testament to his indomitable spirit. As the sun dipped below the horizon, casting the mountaintop into a cloak of darkness, Tommy felt a sense of fulfillment that words could not capture.

He had become the king of Mount Summers, not merely in title, but in spirit. And as he stood atop the world, he savored the peace that settled within him, knowing that this conquest marked the beginning of an eternal bond between man and mountain.

CHAPTER 6: Renaming the Mountain
Randi paced nervously by the phone at the shack nestled at the foot of Mount Summers. Her hands trembled with a mix of excitement and anxiety as she awaited Tommy's call. The weight of his ambitious endeavor pressed upon her heart, filling her with both pride and a sense of unease.

Rocco, the wise guide who knew the mountain's treacherous nature all too well, noticed Randi's restlessness. With a gentle smile, he approached her, offering a reassuring presence amid the tension that hung in the air. "Don't worry, Randi. Tommy is different. There's a fire burning within him that sets him apart from the others."

Randi looked at Rocco, her eyes reflecting a blend of hope and concern. "I believe in him, Rocco. I've always known he has the spirit of an adventurer. But this mountain, it's unforgiving. I fear losing him to its icy grip."

Rocco placed a hand on Randi's shoulder, his voice tinged with wisdom. "I understand your worry, my dear. Mount Summers has claimed many souls who sought to conquer its peaks. But Tommy, he possesses a resilience and determination that I have seldom witnessed. There's something different about him. He carries within him the spirit of the mountain, and it will guide him to success."

As the words settled within Randi's heart, a glimmer of hope sparked within her. She looked out at the majestic mountain that loomed in the distance, its peaks shrouded in mystery and allure. With a newfound resolve, she whispered to herself as she rubbed her ever-growing baby bump, "You can do this, Bedlam. You can do this."

Time seemed to stretch as Randi waited, her nerves fraying with each passing moment. And then, at last, the shrill ring of the phone pierced the air. Her hand shook as she picked it up, a mix of anticipation and anxiety flooding her senses.

"Hey, beautiful. I did it. I took the mountain," Tommy's voice resounded through the receiver, filled with a mix of exhaustion and triumph.

Tears welled in Randi's eyes as relief washed over her. "Of course, you did. I knew you would," she replied, her voice carrying the weight of unwavering faith.

At that moment, as Randi held the connection to the man she loved, the mountainside seemed to exhale a collective sigh. Rocco's words echoed in her mind, reminding her of the unique spark that burned within Tommy's soul. Despite the mountain's formidable challenge, he had conquered its icy grip, emerging victorious.

With gratitude and joy coursing through her veins, Randi whispered into the phone, "I can't wait to see you, Tommy. Get your ass back down this mountain to me."

And as Tommy prepared to descend from the pinnacle of Mount Summers, the knowledge that Randi awaited him with open arms filled him with renewed strength and purpose. He would return to her, forever changed by the mountain's embrace, forever connected by their unyielding love.

Tommy knew that conquering Parr was just as important as conquering Summers. While Michael hated the mountain and the mountain, though cold and soulless, hated him even more. If Tommy had climbed to the top of the mountain only to acknowledge Parr's presence before descending, the climb would have only been completed in part. The destruction of Parr was the final step, the last obstacle on Tommy's path to his destiny.

Before Tommy began his descent down the rocky face of Mount Summers, he remembered that he needed to do something. He walked over to a large smooth stone that stood up from the feet of snow that had gathered on the pinnacle. He looked around and saw some smaller rocks lying there on the ground. He picked one up and he began to scratch a message into the stone.

"MOUNT BEDLAM. RENAMED 6-22-23"

Tommy reached into his bag and pulled out the items that he had gathered along the way. At the foot of the stone in which he had carved the declaration of his own victory, Tommy pulled out the tattered grey tattered sweatshirt before placing the note that read "As I Lay Dying" in it and laying it in front of the rock. He pulled out the majestic black and gold mask along with the robe and its faded hues of black and green, placing them beside the sweatshirt and note. Finally, he pulled out the purple mask and laid it there beside the rest of the items that he found during his ascent.

Had it not been for the ones who came before, Tommy would have never recognized his need to defeat this evil mountain. Had they not bravely tried to scale its unforgiving and uncaring face, Tommy would have likely never known that someone needed to defeat the mountain once and for all, and that person was him. He looked around for a memento of Parr's presence atop the peak and found nothing. For a moment, it appeared that there wasn't even a trace of the man who had held his position at the top of the mountain. That's when Tommy realized that the stone that he had used to engrave his own name into the mountain had a drop of blood on it. Tommy quickly reached for his face, checked the back of his head, and gave a quick examination of his own arms and hands. There was no blood coming from him. The blood on the stone belonged to Parr, its brightness indicating that it was fresh. Tommy looked down at the stone in his hand and tossed it onto the pile of items that would forever commemorate his climb. The only remnant of Michael Parr that was left behind on the mountain would one day fade away, but as Tommy began his descent, he knew that he had left a piece of everyone who the mountain had claimed, and even a piece of himself behind.
 

Rosie

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uTdCE96RV99a2VH3bsPboGXLpHxQrRKd2gnMGKl53egCnr4h47M7a1NYHBieVQWyVQ_KTYZSiYWCH3M7A_Auo3NyYp4p5JJ82sWKo9a7i0EctoDf9W5Mr_AQ3feFyQ9y-J_BpCku4VcBWioc54vd_6s


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Plain Text for Those who can't access it or are too scared of Links (AON).

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Summer in Osaka, 2011:

“Ryo! Don’t throw the baseball so hard!”

The shout of a young Japanese girl echoes through the park on what appears to be a clear, warm, sunny weekend afternoon. In an open field in one of Osaka’s downtown parks, two young kids are playing with each other. In the hands of each of them are baseball gloves. The young girl covers her head, wearing a skirt and a t-shirt branded with a white and blue otter from the Pokemon series, Oshawott. Her long black hair has squared off bangs as she covers her face, a baseball sitting next to her. She appears to be maybe around 10. Walking up to her is an older boy, wearing a ball cap brandishing with the black and gold of the Orix Buffaloes, the professional team in Osaka. He’s got a white shirt and black shorts on, short black hair under his hat. He kneels next to the younger girl, likely his sibling.

“Katsuki. I only lightly tossed the ball.” He tries to console her. “Don’t be so scared.”

Picking up the ball next to his sister, he holds it up. The worn white leather of the ball, red seams going across the ball.

“Look at this ball.” He says. “Does it look that scary to you?”

“No!” His sister giggles.

“See?” Ryo tosses the ball gently in the air. It has a backspin to it before he catches it again. “Did it bite me?”

“It doesn’t have teeth, silly.” Young Katsuki laughs.

“Then why are you so scared?” Ryo places the ball in his glove.

“You play baseball all the time.” Katsuki responds. “You’re so much bigger than me. You play against the big kids and you throw REALLY hard and you always look scary whenever you throw the ball.”

“Me? Scary?” Her brother has a small chuckle. “I don’t think I’m that scary.”

“You make a really mean face.” Katsuki responds.

“Like this?” Ryo crosses his eyes and sticks his tongue out. His sister playfully slaps his arm with her glove.

“Not like that!”

Ryo sits down in the grass next to his sister. He gives her a snarky grin like only an older sibling can.

“A lot of the kids I play against are a lot scarier. They are bigger than me. Sometimes I do get nervous pitching to them. I think ‘What if they hit the ball hard back at me?’ Do you know what I do, Katsuki?”

His sister shakes her head.

“I don’t show it.” Ryo answers. “I do what I can to be ready. I look at my catcher, and focus on hitting his glove. I give my attention to him, the person who is on my team. Not who I am against. Then-” Ryo holds his glove up. “I ready myself in case the ball comes back. Maybe there’s a time I make a mistake. But that will happen. I’m not scared of it.”

“That sounds great for you, but I don’t want to be a baseball player.”

“Well, what do you want to be, Katsuki?” Ryu pats his sister on the shoulder.

“A pro-wrestler!” Young Katsuki ‘flexes’ her muscles jokingly and Ryu laughs.

“Little Katsuki? Pro wrestler? Like what you watch on the Television?”

Katsuki nods. “Yes! I want to be like the Grand Tiger!”

“So you will be the ‘Grand Katsuki?’” Ryo jokes and his sister rolls her eyes. “You sure you don’t want to be a doctor or a lawyer or a teacher?”

Katsuki shakes her head. “No.” and she has a big grin on her face. Suppose she had her dreams set from an early moment.

“If that is your dream, then I wish you luck.” Ryo rustles her hair. “Though I think our Mother and Father will freak out.”

Katsuki blushes, holding her glove.

“But, if you want to wrestle, there is one thing you do need to learn…” Ryo removes his glove and stands up.

“What?” Katsuki looks confused.

“How to survive a headlock!”

And he puts on a gentle and playful headlock on his younger sister. The two kids scream in laughter, roughhousing like any siblings do. For how busy her family often is, even her brother is included, Ryo’s often been the main source of support young Katsuki received. Taking a different path than his academically minded parents, Ryo found his most joy whenever he was on the field, playing baseball. Being the most popular sport in Japan, his parents did support his dreams, though continued to stress the importance of staying on top of his grades. But, Ryo was driven to reach his dream, practising many hours of the day through a level of training which is at times excessive.

Ryo lets go of his ‘headlock’ and picks up his glove.

“Now let’s try this again. Remember.” Ryo holds up the baseball. “It does not have teeth.”

Ryo backs up about forty-five feet, halfway between the distances between bases on a professional field.

“Let’s run it back. Show me how to catch a ball.” He gets his sister to prepare herself.

“First I hold my glove up around my chest…” Katsuki holds her glove up… “Feet apart…” and she separates her feet.

“What do you look at, my scary face or the ball?” Ryo teases her.

“The ball.”

“And, do you catch it with one hand, or two?”

“Two!” Katsuki puts her right hand up, keeping it near her glove.

“Get ready, Katsuki.”

Ryo pulls the ball out of his glove and extends his arm back, thumb down. Stepping forward with his left foot, he gently throws the ball in the air. It has a light arc to it, with the red seams of the baseball spinning backwards, catching some air. Following the ball, Katsuki gets the ball in her glove, using her free hand to help keep the ball within its pocket. Katsuki has a big grin on her face as if she won the World Series itself, practically jumping in the air.

“I did it!”

Her brother smiles proudly. “I told you. Good job!”

Ryo pounds his fist into the pocket of his glove.

“Now let’s see your throw.”

He separates his feet and raises his glove.

“Remember. Step forward with your glove foot. Toe faces me. And flick your wrist.”

“Got it, Ryo!”

Ready for his sister to throw the ball. Perhaps a bit easier for her. She throws her arm back and the ball is launched in the air. It goes through the air, having a light spin as the sun catches the ball-

June 2023:

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An announcer’s voice booms over the speakers in Japanese.

“Ladies and gentleman, in honour of Pro-Wrestling Night, we would like our special guests tonight from Cosmic Joshi Wrestling out for the ceremonial first pitch!”

Katsu breaks out of her daydream and walks out of the dugout as the bright lights of the Tokyo Dome are set on her for the first time in her life. She takes in the sights of a large crowd and countless lights around her. Led screens in the outfield have the match-up for the game. The Yomiuri Giants and the Chunichi Dragons, along with graphics relating to Katsu and several other wrestlers for the theme night. The famous white dome hangs above.

To many wrestling fans, the Tokyo Dome is historic. Always home to some of the biggest matches in the sport which transcend the Pacific Ocean. It’s a common joke in wrestling circles, “It will be Five Stars in the Tokyo Dome,” because of the place’s reputation for the best matches. Katsu, despite being from Japan, has never competed in the dome. If anything, there has not been an all Joshi show in the dome since the mid-nineties before she was born.

But she isn’t in the famous “Egg Dome” for wrestling today as it is a packed crowd for America’s pastime, and Japan’s obsession, baseball as the Yomiuri Giants play. Katsu, in her signature mask, steps out onto the turf field. She and the other three wrestlers with her all have custom baseball jerseys branded with their own faction’s colours and name. Katsu has a black with a neon green gradient. “MAYHEM” written in silver letters with a colourful trim on the front. On her shoulders is CJW’s logo of a planet.

“Introducing, representing COSMICA, Wonder Girl, Rin Tsukiyama!”

The woman next to her has blonde locks and a colourful pink and blue jersey on. She waves to the fans.

“Next, representing the Royal Dojo, Natsumi Kondo!”

The next woman, with a black and gold jersey on, gives a slight bow to the fans. She has darker hair with some blonde highlights.

“Representing Shi-No-Gun, Yoko Haruka!”

With white almost ghoulish face paint on, the woman next to Katsu, Yoko, looks on, giving a side-eyed look, some of her paint rubs off on her white jersey, covering some text.

“And, representing MAYHEM and F-W-A in America, Katsu!”

The fans cheer for all four wrestlers standing in front of the mound. Four players from the Giants take their places across from them behind the plate. They all are branded with white uniforms with a black and orange trim. The look’s inspiration borrows heavily from the San Francisco Giants of the MLB. Standing across from Katsu, she sees a familiar face. His short hair is bleached blonde, and there is a dark sole patch on his chin. But he has a familiar grin. Number 32. The name on the back of his jersey reads “Sasaki.”

The four girls wind up and all toss the ball. The three women near Katsu all have varying degrees of their throw quality, though none of which you could consider to be a really good level. As for Katsu, it’s familiar to her. Just like when she was a kid. Rather than going to a local park, she’s just in a stadium. It’s even to the same person. Katsu pulls her arm back, keeping her thumb down and throws it. The ball is mostly straight as the glove barely needs to move as it is caught.

The fans give a cheer as the players pick their baseballs up and hand it off to the wrestlers. Handing the baseball to Katsu, the baseball player whispers into her ear.

“Good to see you finally learned how to throw, Katsuki.” He chuckles.

“Thank you Ryo.” Katsu chuckles as her brother teases her, just like old times. “We’ll talk after the game. Good luck.”

The players turn to the home plate area where the cameras are to take a picture. Both Katsu and Ryo have large grins on their faces. Unknown to the fans, and even Ryo’s teammates, this is far from an ordinary cross-promotion event to them, one of another dozen throughout a long season. Two siblings, both after realising their dreams, finally having their worlds cross paths.

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After nine innings of baseball action, under the famous Tokyo Dome is its underground parking lot. Most of the cars appear to have left. Katsu leans against one of the several posts, waiting in the cold lot, still with her MAYHEM branded jersey and mask. She taps her foot impatiently. This has been the part of this little day trip to the ballpark she’s looked forward to the most. Catching up with her brother. A couple players make their way to the parking lot from the Giants, bags over their shoulders for their bats, gloves, and helmets. The catchers have larger bags for their padded gear, protection from the many fastballs which miss their target or bounce off the bat. Some players give a respectful nod to Katsu as they pass by, thanking her for coming to their game. The majority of the team appears to be gone.

And no Ryo.

Katsu shrugs her shoulders and begins to walk away, until a familiar voice speaks to her.

“There you are, masked girl.”

She instantly recognises the voice and rushes over to give her older brother a hug.

“Ryo! It’s been what? Almost two years?”

“Yes.” Ryo lets go of Katsu’s embrace. His hat is off and you can see his bleached blonde hair. “It was so hard not to tell my team.”

“What?” Katsu jokes. “That your sister wears a mask for a living? Be a lot easier to explain than your blonde hair choice.”

“It is popular!” Ryo covers his head

Some playful teasing between the siblings. It does not matter how old you are, if you have a good relationship with your sibling, your humour regresses to that of when you were a child. Katsu rolls her eyes.

“I believe you.” Sarcasm drips from her voice. “But that doesn’t mean it is a good choice.”

“Excuse me?” A shy kid’s voice is heard, speaking in Japanese.

The two siblings turn to see a young kid wearing a Yomiuri Giants ball cap. Behind him are his parents. In the kid’s hand is a baseball and a pen.

“Can I have your autograph, Sasaki-san?” He holds the baseball up to the pitcher and he kneels down to meet the kid at eye level. Like many pitchers, his body is somewhat tall and lanky. He smiles.

“Of course, young man.” And he takes the baseball from his hand with the pen and begins to sign it.

“What is your name?” He asks the small boy.

“Kei.” The boy nods and Ryo autographs the baseball.

“Do you mind a photo?” The baseball player asks and both of Kei’s parents nod, taking out a phone.

Katsu backs up to let her brother take a picture with the young boy. The kid has a silly grin on as Ryo Sasaki gets on one knee so he is near the same height of the young fan. Watching this, Katsu can’t help but feel warm inside. Whether a baseball player, wrestler, or another sport, many of these athletes are heroes to at least one kid. That fact remains true if you are the ace of a team, a bench warmer, main event star on a poster, or even just a wrestler making their name. Kei looks to the side at Katsu.

“Can I take a picture with the masked woman too? She looks cool!”

Katsu laughs and kneels down next to her brother.

“I’m charmed, young man. Sure. Glad to meet a new fan. Katsu is my name. I am a wrestler.”

“Are you strong?” Kei asks innocently.

Katsu “flexes” and the kid laughs. Both Kei’s parents grin at their son making memories as Katsu and Ryo both join the kid in taking a photo. They pose before Kei joins his parents. His father speaks up.

“Thank you to both of you.” And he gives a slight bow which the siblings return. “You two, do you know each other?”

“We are friends who appreciate each other’s work.” Katsu responds, keeping their connection a secret.

“-And I was giving her tips on her throw.” Ryo teases Katsu who just playfully bumps him in the shoulder.

“I think she did fine, haha.” Kei’s father chuckles. “Thank you and take care.”

Kei and his family walk the other way as both the siblings look on, both having their days made thanks to that interaction. Ryo turns his head to Katsu. He says to her.

“It appears someone here is becoming a big deal?”

Katsu is caught off guard by the statement. She rubs the back of her neck, being modest.

“Am I?”

Ryo nods.

“Here you are, wrestling for one of the biggest women’s promotions in Japan, and now wrestling for Fantasy Wrestling Alliance.”

“It isn’t much.” Katsu looks away. “They offered me a spot last year and I did bridge a gap between both companies. So I can work for both.”

“Making it in the west is a big accomplishment.” Ryo pats her on the back. “I know I wish for a chance to make it to Major League Baseball someday. But I am still appreciative of having a good career at home.”

“I know you had broken your foot during the off-season and could not compete in the World Baseball Classic.” Katsu pouts. “I was upset. I was hoping you would get that opportunity.”

“You just wanted me to set you up to meet Shohei Ohtani.”

Katsu snaps her head back, cutting her brother a dirty glare at the teasing. “No…” If you could see under the mask, she’d be flush red in the face. Ryo says in a joking tone.

“Oh, I am Katsuki! Ohtani-san is so cool! I love him so much-”

Katsu smacks her brother on the shoulder to get him to stop. Ryo gets his chuckling under control and gets this conversation back on track.

“I am proud of you, Katsuki. You have come a long way.”

“Thank you.” She takes a deep breath. “FWA alone I have grown a lot. I entered under my old persona, Vampyra. The one created for me in CJW. It was fine at first, but the more I was there, the more I felt disconnected with her.”

“Her?” Ryo questions his sister’s word choice. “You were Vampyra.”

“When wrestlers enter, we sort of put on a presentation as to what we want the fans to see us as. Many turn their own personalities up to a higher level. So I had to present myself as Vampyra. I felt like a different person” Katsu points to her mask. “But this, I just feel natural. It is still a mask, but I feel as though I am me. I have also pushed myself in the ring more than before. Relearning everything. Improving my English. Adapting how I wrestle slightly because I am against mostly people twice my size.”

“I can understand that feeling.” Ryo tries to relay what Katsu has said to something more personal. “I find myself pushing myself more when there is a tough opponent coming up. I think about how I pitch to every batter, and work with my catchers. When the pressure is on, I think that is when we rise to the surface.” He smiles at his sister. “That is what happens when you are facing elite competition.”

Katsu nods.

“I suppose that is one way to put it. Hehe.” Her voice trails. “Though if you fall flat as I did in the F1, you-”

Ryo stops his sister. “Don’t say that. You did fine from what I have seen. You were in the ring with their best with former and current champions, within just a handful of matches. Few could have done what you did.”

“My apologies if I am still traumatised over it.” Katsu rolls her eyes.

“And yet, here you are.” Ryo encourages his sister. “Stronger after it all. I think you’ll be much more prepared against the likes of them now.”

“I better be.” Katsu mentions. “I am against the current number one contender to the World Championship this coming week. Cyrus Truth.”

“I heard of him before.” Ryo thinks. “He’s good, I am guessing.”

“Try a former multiple time world champion, won two Carnal Contendership matches, future hall of famer for their company, though he’s had two big losses recently.”

“So one more he strikes out?” Ryo jokes and Katsu cuts a glare at the poor joke. The Giants picture gets back on track. “Maybe I can give you a baseball quote that can help?”

“Why does everything come back to Baseball to you?” Katsu shows some snark, which her brother returns in kind.

“Like how everything came back to wrestling for you,” and the pitcher winks. “Babe Ruth is a baseball legend from America. A coach before, when I had a slump told me something he said. Yesterday’s Home Runs don’t win today’s games.’”

“What does that mean?” Katsu inquires further.

“It means no matter how good, or bad you were before, that does not mean anything to help you win the day.” Ryo expands. “Each time I step on the mound, it is a new game. So each time you step into a wrestling ring, it is a new match.”

“Hmm.” Katsu thinks. “Sounds like the opposite to what Cali Hayama told me. My last opponent had a rough career. So she said not to worry because of that reason.”

“There are trends.” Ryo admits. “Players go on hitting streaks, go through slumps of differing sizes. But if you spend too much time worrying about that, then you will be unable to keep your eyes on the prize. Worry about the match ahead.”

Katsu paces back and forth, thinking about the advice from her older brother.

“Beating him would just mean so much to me. This will just show how much I have changed since I joined FWA. From being scared to face some tough names to not just being on the level of a world championship contender, but to win. Not even by a fluke, but by facing him man to woman and having a decisive win without something to soil the moment.”

“So what you are saying is you want to beat him without anything to cloud it?” Ryo asks for more clarification. “Like a missed-call.”

“You are on the right track. Cali and Ririko will be in Mexico by then and they agreed to be in my corner for the match. But they will mainly be there for support. But I don’t want to just win by a lucky pinfall, or have something happen right after to overshadow it, like when I won my first championship. In a way, I want to do it out of respect for Cyrus.”

“Have you ever faced him?”

“Carnal Contendership when I returned. He won, I finished fourth out of thirty. In a lot of ways, it was an honour to be involved in that final four. I saw the grace he had under pressure. I want to be at a point in my career where I don’t feel that. I can admire that about him. But now, we are one show away from Back in Business. It is their biggest show of the year. It is so big that they are splitting it into two nights and have a stadium which can hold over 100,000 people. I beat the person main eventing the show right before, then who knows what will come after? But what if FWA just sees me as a warm-up match for him before the main event?”

“If you want to win, word of advice.” Ryo interrupts his sister and says, “Don’t admire him. Don’t get caught in his aura. Go there to win.”

“Apologies if I am trying to be somewhat respectful to-” Katsu begins a response, but she stops herself. She thinks of his words and realises where he got it from. “-Are you quoting Ohtani!?”

Her brother gives a sheepish grin. “I have no idea what you are talking about.” He plays dumb.

“World Baseball Classic Finals. This year. A coach on the team gave Team Japan signed baseballs from team USA. So he reminded his team about the skill level of Team USA, and told them that if they would admire them, they would lose.”

“What? No, what I just said is original.” Ryo has sarcasm in his voice.

“It was viral! The entire country watched that game.”

“Well, maybe I am just building off of something you know.” He puts his hand on his sister’s shoulder. “Katsuki. I know you have a lot of pressure. But know that there are people supporting you. Even if Cyrus Truth may be a living legend, I am sure there are fans hoping for something new, like you. You have a high ceiling, but your career is young so you have time for failures and to learn from them. You were always passionate about your wrestling as a kid. I kept your secret for you from our parents because I knew you were scared of them finding out. Just go into this match with the right mindset.”

He nods.

“Don’t be intimidated by his history and success. Focus on doing what you can do to win and win your way. This is your ninth inning. You are the one on the mound against a slugger with two strikes. You can put him away. If you can’t. It will be heartbreaking, yes. But there will be that next game, and you won’t make the same pitch twice.”

Ryo winks and, through his own way, has seemingly put his sister at ease. Katsu gives him a hug.

“Thank you. We will stay in touch as best we can. I’ll be keeping up with your career too.”

“We will. I also think I’ll be watching you a bit from now on… Though no promises for it being live. Time zones are unforgiving.” Ryo gives a nervous snicker.

“FWA will be in Japan next year. Maybe next time, you will be the one coming to the Tokyo Dome to watch me?” Katsu winks back at her older sibling. He pats her on the top of her mask and begins to walk away.

“Safe travels.”

Katsu bows her head slightly, in good spirits.

“Thank you. I hope your season goes well.”

Ryo’s smile shows teeth. A heartwarming reunion with his sister. He carries his gear bag off towards his car so that he can head home and prepare for his next game. Katsu stands in the parking lot, looking onwards, lost in thought. In a few days, she’ll be leaving Japan for a somewhat extended period of time to Back in Business. This time, though. She at least has her friends, and she knows exactly what will happen. Cyrus Truth in Fallout’s Co-Main Event. Two matches over Back in Business Weekend. Then, whatever fallout comes.

Several Days Later:

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The gentle roar of the air plane’s engines cut into the sky as we are nearing the end of an over 15 hour flight. Something which Katsu is getting used to, although there is only so much one can do with the amount of jet lag one would have. Sitting in first class, likely thanks to her growing fame wrestling internationally, Katsu lies back in her chair with the lights dim.

She keeps a cloth privacy mask on, as she leans back in her chair, supporting her head with a travel pillow. In her lap is a case for her Nintendo Switch. She looks through some saved videos on her phone, likely to provide more varied entertainment than grinding through the new Legend of Zelda game and torturing Koroks. She flips through and sees a video she saved some time back, but forgot she still had downloaded. It is titled “Shohei Ohtani vs. Mike Trout: Final At Bat in the USA vs. Japan 2023 WBC Championship.” Her mind races back to the conversation with her brother just days ago. “Don’t admire them,” the words from her brother echo in her head. She hits play.

“Impossible theatre.” The announcer proclaims. “The regal excellence of Japan. The overwhelming talent of the United States, and in a one run game with two gone in the ninth inning. The Dream Match-up…”

Watching this moment back, Katsu’s eyes slowly blink. The exhaustion of a long trip is taking its toll on her.

“Ohtani… Trout.”

As the first pitch is thrown, Katsu closes her eyes.

And finds herself in a locker room. Though it isn’t one for wrestling.

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She sits in a circular room, several stalls along the wall with television screens in the middle of the room. LED lights form the shape of the Miami Marlins logo. Trimmings on the wall above the locker room form a Miami vice styled skyline of the city. Every person around her is wearing the famous uniform for Team Japan’s baseball team, the Samurai as some nickname them. She looks down to see herself in a similar uniform, though rather than a baseball cap, her mask is dark blue with red and gold trims, matching the uniform’s aesthetic.

She glances around and her “teammates” appear to be excited as someone is handing out t-shirts. He eventually gets to Katsu and she glances at it. It has a silhouette of Cyrus Truth on it walking on a long and winding road. Text on it reads “Find your Truth.” She turns it over and on the back in smaller text near the collar, it reads in a bold red “The Exile.” Her teammates are examining their new shirts, gleefully smiling like they are kids on Christmas morning. A graphic appears on the screen showing Team Japan and Team USA with notable players from both. Multiple players from the US team seem familiar. The moustached Disco king, Chris Peacock. The round face with slicked back hair and beard of Danny Toner. But most notably to her, with a beard, short hair, and plenty of tattoos, it is Cyrus Truth. A big game, and they are busy fawning over their opponents.

Katsu throws her shirt on the ground and stands up. Clearing her throat, she gets the attention of her team.

“Listen. I have to say something.” She says in her native tongue. Her team gets up from their seats and approaches her.

The masked woman finds herself standing in the middle of the room with her team surrounding her. All eyes are on her. She swallows her nerves, taking a deep breath. She adjusts her mask.

“Umm, let’s stop admiring him. Chris Peacock is at first base. Truth is in the centre. Toner is in the outfield. If you do what we do, I think these are names that everyone has heard of. But today is just one day.”

Her team exchanges glances with each other. Some of which begin to look at the gifts they have received.

“If you yearn for it, you won’t be able to overcome it. We came here to beat them today. To become the top, so for just one day today, let’s throw away our admiration for them and only think about winning!”

Katsu lets out a big shout and her teammates return one in kind, and then throw their shirts down. No more admiration. They are here to win.


VJf5UanNekTC0LUENDSEYqvUvU-B60zQLKOstabpVCOlmow6cbecMR2R7mbpoawTEsotY6ohPaVLrYLcL1dn_27zgMecZ48KszXT2zZEI5nSq3Bku_ewaMULLbJNGDMEhBsH6SVbIdIC9XBLvMY45rY


The crowd roars as Katsu paces on the mound. Her team is in the field behind her, taking their positions as a running for the United States stands on second base.Looking back at the large scoreboard beyond the outfield fence, she sees the score.

USA 2

Japan 3

Ninth Inning.

Two outs.

Looking towards the batter’s box, she sees the hitter walk up to the plate. Scowl on his face, muscles on his tattooed arm pulsating, bat in his hands. Cyrus Truth. This is it. Pressure is on. One mistake, she blows the team’s lead, again.

“Impossible theatre.” The announcer proclaims. “The regal excellence of Japan. The overwhelming talent of the United States, and in a one run game with two gone in the ninth inning. A match-up of the possible future and the present…”

Katsu steps on the mound and looks at her catcher in which he gives a sign of a pitch. She brings her hands together and gets a grip on the baseball.

“Katsu… Truth.”

Katsu lifts her leg before throwing the baseball towards the plate. It is over the plate, and has a nice hook to it, but it falls below knee height. A ball.

“One ball, no strikes.” The commentator continues.

Upon receiving the ball back from the catcher, Katsu takes her glove off and adjusts her mask nervously. The pressure is mounting. The other man in the booth chimes in.

“Both people are going to Back in Business. One is going with a big win.”

Steading herself, Katsu’s eyes glance towards Truth’s and she sees a grimace. He’s dangerous in this spot. So, she instead looks towards her catcher, the one on her team. He puts down one finger, the pointer, signalling a fastball.

“With a match-up like this. We have already won.”

Katsu readies the pitch and the ball darts forward in a straight line. The big hitter swings, but misses. It’s a strike!

“Swing and a miss, a Fastball at 100! A One and One count!”

The commentators remain silent as the crowd comes alive. Katsu shows a small grin on the mound. She’s ready to throw more heat. Loading up the pitch, she puts everything behind the throw, but the ball escapes her slightly. It travels farther to her left and isn’t over the plate.

“Ball two, just outside!”

“Fastball just off the plate and Truth hardly budged. Once again, Truth is one of the best to ever live. Katsu has a bright future. The stars align for this match-up here in the ninth.”

Receiving the baseball from her catcher, Katsu tries her best to hide her frustration after the veteran wouldn’t budge off her pitch. This next pitch is coming with some anger behind it. She sees the signal for another fastball. She is pitching mad.

Katsu loads up and throws it heading towards the middle of the strike zone! A common mistake for many pitchers-

But Truth is unable to catch up to the blazing fastball! Another swing and a miss!

“2-2! Now what?”

Feeling a great relief, Katsu has evening up the count and she is one strike away from ending this. She catches the baseball and readies herself, trying to slow down her heart-rate. Two strikes, two balls. She only needs one strike to end this. She also has room for error. You need four balls to take a walk.

“I mean, I’d be hard pressed to not throw another fastball right there and I know and I know it’s Cyrus Truth, but that fastball is getting on him.”

“Katsu’s 2-2 pitch.”

Katsu throws the ball, expecting to get some more heat in, and throws this pitch even harder than the previous two, but something in her slips. The ball spikes down on the ground, away from Cyrus and it hits the dirt. Full-count. Three balls, two strikes.

“The count goes full!”

The fans cheer as the atmosphere becomes electric as what can be the final pitch of this game is coming. Katsu paces on the mound. She is trying to work through her head what to do next.

“You got this…” She mutters to herself. “You need this…”

The crowd roars as there is not a single person sitting down.

Katsu sets herself on the mound and this time, she is thinking of something different. A slider. A risky pitch in this situation. If he swings, it is hard to hit as it pulls away from him. If he doesn’t bite, it can result in a walk and there will be multiple people on base. But, what if it doesn’t have enough curve and ends up over the plate? Someone like Truth can easily capitalise on such a mistake and take the lead, ending in another embarrassment for her.

“Katsu’s ready. Truth’s ready. 3-2.”

Katsu lifts her left leg and pushes off with her right, she swings her arm overhead at a slight angle. The baseball spins off her fingers and has a side-spin to it. Truth loads up and prepares to swing with the full count. Everything is in slow motion to Katsu as she sees Truth unload with a swing-

DING DING….. DING

“We landed at Monterrey International Airport. Thank you for flying with us today.”

Katsu jolts back to life as the lights in her cabin light up and people slowly pull themselves out of their chairs. She’s made it.
RxWIpqKvxK1n14aUPDCw3eh1w8ReQunrat_-rcHlWgq2i2vo1ZD_UGS2OO_lk2SOSq6gktPwVkyyNzwo-Ds8PWRjYxbLny_JqGtHtHy7KlfFZq2e3qdoVfIFvy5haYufqMgGut4BMuP6FCE58ngfttE


Rolling her suitcase into the main common of the airport, the lights blind Katsu as she walks with her privacy mask on, wearing a tank top and shorts, prepared for the sunny weather of Mexico. The lights reflect on the freshly waxed grey floors as various crowds of travellers to and from the airport walk around, or crowd together to meet with friends. She holds her phone out and reads some text messages. The first of which is in a group chat with her, Cali, and Ririko. The Japanese text reads that the two will be meeting her in Guadalajara on Friday, the day before Fallout. Mixed in the messages include talk about video games, strategy for the Trios Battle Royale, and even mini-vacation plans before the big show.

She stops as she turns to see a familiar poster. Black and yellow. The bottom has the familiar moustache of FWA World Champion, Chris Peacock. “CHAMPION” repeats in text. On the top, standing in yellow, is her opponent for Fallout, Cyrus Truth. The “Challenger.” Separating them is an impressive Aztec inspired logo for Back in Business XVII. The poster is in both English and Spanish.

The wrestler looks long at the poster, advertising a show she’s wrestling twice on. FWA's biggest show. For three quarters of a year, she has been wrestling in FWA. Directly in her face are two names who symbolise the top of the company. The best of the best.

Before their big match, she has her chance to show she not just belongs there.

But that can be at the top of FWA.

“That will be your day.” Katsu mutters to herself. She clenches her fist. “But Saturday will be my day.”

Her eyes glance directly at the picture of Cyrus Truth. “I will not yearn for you. I will only think of winning in Guadalajara.”

Katsu rolls her suitcase behind her and walks down, away from the poster. Right before Back in Business, pressure is on her. While there is nothing on the line directly, there is something about this which can be therapeutic for both. For Cyrus, he avoids a third loss in four matches since his historic second Carnal Contendership win. But Katsu, there is something about getting over the hump for her. To show she can step up to competition greater than Jackson Fenix, Al Blizzard. She doesn’t choke under pressure. Whether Cyrus Truth likes to admit it or not, he’s the gatekeeper to the main event scene in FWA.

And God would she love to be there.

Katsu looks forward, not even glancing back at the poster. In Guadalajara, she has to step up to the plate.
GqkzMsa3jb_KW_WAIufDu6uCZ3or0_hc-c-1D3Y3aCfpqmGw7HpLB5lSE7dScuV4sCozNWtvHmzT18xvolrFCWVt0wvf4h_chVc3MWxx6mxGAuMyZxxaOfMFWA1kb4bX-9BBrgSZMV3x9THXLeFlBAo
 

The ScapeDubb

Cry me a river
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El Vengador
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Teacher.
(Click that).

Many of you I know from other universes. I’ve seen your faces in different places. So many worlds I’ve come across but I’m not sure I’ve seen you before, Juan.

I suppose we have some things in common.

You’re coming in… perhaps a bigger name in other parts of the world but here, you have not made a name for yourself.

You want to come in and make an impact.

But unfortunately, so do I.

Perhaps we have met in other realms. Perhaps it was under a different mask. Or no mask at all perhaps. But I don’t go into battle without doing my research.

So you’re a teacher, huh?

Heh, funny. I’ve already had to deal with a “teacher” of sorts since coming to this realm. I can’t say that she taught me much. However, I do plan to make an example of her at Back in Business. So fitting that they put me up against another “teacher” in my first official match.

Vampyra or should I say, Katsu… she was no teacher.

Juan… I don’t know much about you… but my gut tells me that the same could be said about you.

To me, there’s only one teacher in my life.

And he cannot be replaced.





Teacher.


“One… “

“Two..”

“Three…”

“Four…”

As the sun sank beneath the horizon, casting a glow across the desolate wasteland of the Realm of Despair, a young James Grimshaw stood alongside his older brother, Dominic Grimshaw. The air was heavy with the scent of decay, a constant reminder of the destruction that had befallen their world.

They stood in what used to be a barren forest, now reduced to twisted, skeletal remains of once towering trees. The atmosphere was suffused with an unsettling stillness, broken only by the distant howls of feral creatures echoing through the dusk.

The seven-year-old James clenched his small hands into fists, his wide eyes scanning the surroundings, mirroring the apprehension that filled his heart. He looked up at Dominic, who despite still being young himself at the age of seventeen appeared much more worn than his age would suggest. But it was his undaunted spirit that had kept them alive in this unforgiving realm.

"Are you listening, Jimmy?" Dominic asked with some slight frustration towards the younger brother.. "Listen, little brother… to survive in this hell, you must learn to be the predator, not the prey."

The young boy looked up with admiration at his brother. Dominic's piercing green eyes met with James' as he raised his hand, fingers spread wide. The older boy couldn’t help but feel some of the frustration melt away. “Remember what I’ve been telling you. Count to four," he commanded. "On the fourth count, strike with all your might."

James nodded, his heart pounding with excitement and fear. He took a deep breath, inhaling the acrid stench of decay, and began to count. "One... two... three..."

Time stood still for a moment,. James tightened his grip on the crude, makeshift weapon in his hands, a jagged shard of metal fashioned into a blade.

"...FOUR!" James cried, his voice infused with determination. Swiftly he lunged forward, guided by Dominic's teachings, and struck at an imaginary target.

Though his strike met only empty air, James could feel the adrenaline of the moment.

"Well done, Jimmy," he remarked, his voice laden with pride. James looked up to his brother, smiling. Nothing made him happier than making his brother proud.

***

Amidst the twisted remnants of the forest, James, now a few years older at the age of ten, found himself alone. Not abandoned, but just temporarily alone as his brother had taken on a job that at least allowed them to have a little bit of money to survive on. James was on the hunt, looking to use the techniques his brother had been teaching him. His gaze darted eagerly from one decaying tree to another, searching for signs of life within the dead landscape.

His heart quickened as a faint rustling sound reached his ears. Following the source of the noise, James emerged into a small clearing bathed in moonlight. There, amidst the gnarled roots, he spotted a delicate creature—an albino rabbit. Its fur is like snow, a fragile contrast to the dark reality of their world.

Touched by the creature's vulnerability, James approached cautiously, his movements gentle as he extended his hand. The rabbit, sensing no immediate threat, allowed James to stroke its soft fur. A glimmer of tenderness appeared in James' eyes as he marveled at this brief moment of tranquility. "Hey there little fella," he picked the rabbit up, cradling it in his arms. "How'd you make it all the way out here still alive?"

However, the calm was broken by the high pitched whistle of an arrow as it breezed by the young boy's face, piercing the rabbit's torso while it rested in his hands. The life of the rabbit quickly escaped its body as blood began to soak James' hands.

In shock, the boy dropped the rabbit down to the ground. Footsteps grew close as James turned to look into the familiar purple skull mask wielding a crossbow in his arms. The figure tossed the crossbow across his back making use of the strap around his shoulders.

"Hey! That was my new little friend!"

The man reached back, pulling off his mask to reveal the now twenty-one year old Dominic Grimshaw. He tossed the mask to the ground. "Friend?" Dominic chuckled, his voice laced with some sarcasm. "You and me both know there are no friends in this world."

James recoiled, his eyes flickering with disappointment. "But Dom, it's harmless. It's just a rabbit. We could…"

As he approached his younger brother, Dominic's expression softened momentarily, his voice empathic but firm. "You must understand, Jimmy, there's no room for attachments in this world. That thing could've attracted our enemies. Food isn't exactly easy to come by these days. If we don't kill and eat that beast, someone else will."

James' eyes began to tear up, "yeah well, it woulda been nice, ya know. To have a friend. You're always so busy working these days..."

With a sigh, Dominic knelt beside James, his scarred hand resting on his brother's shoulder. "I wouldn't leave you alone if I didn't think you could handle yourself, brother. Besides, there's still a need for money even in this world... and luckily people are willing to pay for my skill set."

"What... do you do anyway?"

"Best we not discuss that. Not right now anyway. One day you'll understand more."

"Hmph," the young boy pouted, "why am I never old enough to know the good stuff."

Dominic cracked a smile, wrapping his arm around his brother's shoulders. "There's a bigger world out there, little brother," he whispered. "No, dare I say it... a bigger universe... full of worlds just like ours. And one day... when I've gotten everything we need... when I've completed these missions... I'm gonna take us to a place free from the shackles of despair."

Wiping away a tear, James nodded. He knew he still had much to learn from his older brother.

"Hey!" James sat up with a sudden realization passing over him as he glanced over to the arrow still lodged into the body of the rabbit, "you could've hit me with that!"

"Ah, but I didn't, did I?"

"But what if you had missed?"

"Come on, Jimmy. You know I don't miss."

As the two shared a brief moment of laughter, Dominic's gaze turned to the moonlit clearing. He sensed a larger prey lurking nearby—a deer, its silhouette in full view against the night sky. In unison, the brothers readied themselves. Dominic grabbed the sash across his shoulders, bringing the crossbow off his back and tossing it over to his little brother.

Dominic placed his hand on his brother’s shoulder. "You got this.." he said, his voice steady and commanding.

James nodded, his heart pounding with anticipation. He focused in on his target as he lined his eyesight up, aiming the crossbow. His voice was quiet, barely a whisper to not alerate their prey, "One... two... three..."

"...four!" James declared, his voice infused with conviction as he pulled back on the trigger. The arrow soared through the air, connecting perfectly with the unsuspecting victim.


***

On the other side of the forgotten forest sat an abandoned warehouse, its broken windows allowing slivers of moonlight to penetrate through the darkness. James, now twelve years old, had grown accustomed to the desolate sanctuary they called home. At least a temporary home. One of many they’ve had over the years.

While James was preparing a fire in a barrel, Dominic abruptly rushed through the doors of the warehouse. "Jimmy!" he called out, his voice in a panic that James had not heard from his brother in some time. "They've tracked us down. We must move quickly."

James' heart raced. He knew that if his brother was worried, the threat must be quite serious. Nodding in agreement, he followed Dominic's lead. "Listen to me, little brother," he instructed. "Go and hide... and when they get here... I'll fend them off while you head for safety."

James swallowed hard, his young voice quivering with fear. His eyes pleaded for reassurance. "But Dom, what about you? I can't just leave you here."

Dominic's grip tightened on James' shoulders, his voice steady. "Trust me. I've faced worse odds. Just remember everything I've taught you and you'll be fine. I'll catch up to you." With a heavy heart, James nodded. He hugged his brother before running to hide behind a dilapidated wooden crate. The crate, once used to transport long-forgotten goods, now provided a meager shield from the approaching danger.

Five figures emerged from the darkness, their eyes smoldering with malice and armed with swords. Dominic stood tall, removing his own sword from its sheath.

"Dominic Grimshaw!" One of the men shouted out. "This doesn't have to get ugly. We can do this the easy way… or… the hard way…"

"Yeah!" One of the others agreed. "Just give us back the device and no one has to get hurt."

Dominic reached down, clutching a small object he had concealed in the pocket of his black pants. "He doesn't need it," he replied. "Besides, it doesn't even work."

"This is your last warning," the original man spoke up again as all five drew in closer. "The boss wants it back."

"Well then," Dominic cracked a smirk as he reached back, sliding his purple skull mask on to conceal his face, "come and get it!"

From his hiding spot behind the crate, James peered through a narrow gap, his eyes fixated on the unfolding scene. The world around him seemed to blur, his breaths shallow and rapid, but he refused to surrender to the overwhelming fear that threatened to paralyze him. As he watched Dominic's valiant defense unfold, tears swelled up in his eyes. The crate offered little comfort to the sounds of metal on metal clashing over and over again as five men attempted to take down his brother. But none were as seasoned a warrior as he. Closing his eyes, James focused on the sounds of the other men crying out in pain as Dominic's blade found its mark.

Four assailants fell before Dominic's relentless onslaught, their bodies crashing to the ground.

James knew he was supposed to run. He knew his brother's instructions and he always followed them. He was never one to doubt his teacher. His brother. But something didn't feel right.

Something was wrong.

Where was the fifth man?

In a swift and treacherous maneuver, the fifth attacker positioned himself behind Dominic. His blade descended with ruthless precision, finding its mark, striking Dominic across the black with a mighty swing.

A guttural cry erupted from Dominic's lips as pain engulfed his body. James felt himself frozen, paralyzed with fear as his brother dropped to his knees. The attacker positioned himself behind him, reaching around, and bringing his blade to his neck.

"You made the wrong decision today. I hope it was worth it."

Watching what could be the last moments of his brother's life right before his eyes, James felt his heart pounding out of his chest. Dominic's words echoed in his mind. Everything he had taught him over the years... he could not run.

Dominic wouldn't run.

And neither would he.

Reaching to his pocket, James pulled out his own knife, gripping it tightly as he slowly emerged from the crate, unseen by his brother's assailant. To himself in the softest of whispers... he began to count..

"One…”

“Two...

“Three..."

“........”

“Four.”

On the fourth count, James leaped out with his knife, driving the blade deep into the side of the assailant’s stomach. A gasp filled the air as he lowered his own blade to clutch his wound as blood began to spill out.

"WHAT THE FUCK..." The man turned around to find young James standing there, the blood covered knife in his hand.

"Leave my brother alone!"

James now became the subject of the attacker's attention, pulling his sword forward. "Well, well, well... if this isn't a pleasant surprise. The boss never mentioned you had family, Dom... now this... should be... fun..."

"Go to Hell!" Dominic cried out as he thrust up from the ground with his sword, guiding the blade up and directly through the back of the man's neck, clear through to the other side.

A crimson river flowed out from their enemy's neck as he dropped to his knees right before James while Dominic too collapsed back to the ground.

James rushed past the other fallen bodies to come to his brother’s aid.

“You didn’t run. You disobeyed me. You never disobey me.”

“I just did what you would do.”

Dominic smiled, wincing through the pain as he sat up and embraced his brother.

“Are you going to be okay?”

Dominic nodded, “I’ll be fine. Just a flesh wound. Can’t say the same about them though.”

“They wanted something? A device?”

Dominic leaned forward, extending out his leg to give himself access to his pocket. He retrieved a small metal cylinder from his pocket. Lined with red, black, and blue buttons including a spot for a missing, broken button.

“What is it?”

“I’m not exactly sure how it works… and I gotta figure out how to fix it… but this, little brother… is our ticket outta this realm.”

****


My brother molded me into the man I am today. .

Unrelenting.

Undaunted.

Unstoppable.

He taught me everything I know.

That’s what I’m bringing to the FWA.

Dominic Grimshaw was a teacher.

Not Juan.

Not Katsu.

And now… the time has come…

The student becomes the teacher.


 

Jimmy King

It’s Britney, bitch
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Undisputed Xperienx in...
Coming out on top



The day is Saturday, June 10th, 2023, and FWA fans worldwide just witnessed the formation of a new team on Fallout. This team will change the game. This team will take the FWA trios division by storm. This team will go down in history as the greatest trio to ever be assembled in FWA.

Are you ready for the Xperienx of a lifetime? Can you handle the Xtacee? Prepare yourself for…

Undisputed Xperienx!

One thing: they haven’t had an official match together as a team. That will all change, though, when the newest sensation will debut on Saturday, June 24th, live on Fallout from Estadio Akron in Guadalajara, Mexico!

Undisputed Xperienx will make their trio debut when they face The Bad Boys Boy Band, but that’s in the future. We’re still in the present day on June 10th, and on this day, we find The Undisputed Alliance, Jackson Fenix, and Nate Savage, relishing in the announcement of this soon-to-be-legendary trio. They just experienced a little Xtacee on the debut edition of Pillow Talk, and now the duo is in their locker room.

Jackson Fenix: “Dude, that was great! I can’t believe you opened up and showed a side I’ve never seen!”

Jackson says he looks at his friend in awe. Nate is in disbelief at his behavior as he shakes his head but can’t help but smile.

Nate Savage: “I don’t know what came over me, but something in the moment compelled me to do it.”

Jackson Fenix: “The people loved it, Dude! I can tell that you loved it too; come on, admit it!”


Jackson says and gives Nate a playful nudge on the shoulder.

Nate Savage: “I will admit that I was uncomfortable at first, and my first gut instinct was telling me not to go along with it, but eventually, I gave in. I mean, what’s the worst that could happen, right? XX seems like a decent guy, and you two got on pretty well.”

Jackson nods in agreement and is about to speak up, but he gets a notification on his phone. He reads the message and his expression changes. What was joyful has now turned to a look of glum. Nate senses something is off with Jackson, and his face of joy slowly disappears.

Nate Savage: “What? What is it? What does it say?”

Jackson Fenix: “Um, it’s nothing. XX wants us to meet him in his locker room with Monica and Antonio.”

Nate Savage: “Oh, that doesn’t sound so bad. Why the sudden change of mood?”

Jackson Fenix: “It’s nothing, dude, don’t worry about it.”


Nate starts to grow frustrated by Jackson’s vagueness, and he can tell Jackson isn’t being sincere about it not being anything.

Nate Savage: “It’s something, or else you wouldn’t look so down. Come on, man; you can tell me what it is.”

Jackson looks at Nate as if he’s unsure to say what the message says, but he knows that Nate won’t let him off the hook until he says what’s in the message.

Jackson Fenix: “Okay, fine, but you have to promise you won’t be angry.”

Nate Savage: “Well, you’re saying that I can presume that I will be angry, so I don’t know if I can make that promise. Will you say what it is?”


Jackson lets out a sad sigh and reads the message aloud.

Jackson Fenix: “At the behest of Monica, XX has requested that Nate hook up with Monica.”

Nate looks confused at first and shakes his head.

Nate Savage: “Hook up? What does that mean?”

Jackson Fenix: “Dude, do you seriously not know what that means?”

Nate Savage: “I’m sorry for not being up to date on the latest lingo the kids are using these days!”

Jackson Fenix: “It means they want you to have sex with Monica.”


Nate looks at Jackson, even more, confused than before, and he laughs nervously.

Nate Savage: “What? No way, they didn’t say that! You’re lying. Is this some elaborate prank by you and XX?”

Jackson’s serious expression gives the impression that it isn’t a prank and he isn’t lying. He doesn’t say anything, but he slowly shakes his head. Nate’s nervous laughing comes to a halt, and it starts to sink in that Jackson isn’t lying and this isn’t a prank.

Nate Savage: “No…no…no…NO WAY! I won’t do that!”

Jackson Fenix: “You promised you wouldn’t get angry!”

Nate Savage: “I did no such thing! I knew this was a bad idea; I should’ve gone with my gut! My gut has never steered me wrong before!”

Jackson Fenix: “Listen, let’s go to his locker room and see if we can discuss this.”

Nate Savage: “What’s there to discuss? I refuse to go along with these shenanigans! I often notice you dragging me into these uncomfortable situations. First, it was The Buddy System crap, and now this nonsense! I can’t do this anymore, Jack! I won’t do this; I’m a happily married man!”


Jackson puts his hands on Nate’s shoulders and tries to calm him down.

Jackson Fenix: “Dude, try to relax. Take a breath; take it easy.”

Nate does start to calm down a little, and he takes a breath.

Jackson Fenix: “Let’s go to this team meeting and see what we can do, okay?”

Nate looks at Jackson, and he looks deep into the puppy dog eyes of Jackson. Nate begrudgingly agrees to go to the meeting by giving Jackson a nod.

Jackson Fenix: “XX seems like a reasonable guy; I’m sure we can talk it out.”

Cut to the interior of the locker room of the FWA’s newest, prettiest, and hardest competitor, the Sensual Enigma known as Xperienx Xtacee. The floor is an orange carpet, and the walls are a green-velvety material. What you’d expect from a deluxe locker room is exactly what is contained within; benches, spaces for clothing, an area for showering, a spot for applying makeup- complete with a large lightbulb-rimmed mirror -and a ceiling fan. Uncharacteristic of a locker room, although very much in the style of Xperienx Xtacee, there is a large heart-shaped bed in the same colors as the carpet and walls directly across from the entrance to the room.

Monica: “Did they get the message, my love?” says Monica as she sits in front of the mirror, applying her makeup.

Laying in the center of the bed, shirtless and covered by an orange comforter, Xtacee turns his head to look at Monica.

Xtacee: “Of course, babydoll, I sent that text right on through, but even I’m not sure if Mr. Nasty is the type to roll that way. But who knows, maybe he’ll be down to get down with ya. I must admit, it would be kinda hot.”

Antonio: “X, Monica, all that I know is,”
Antonio, sitting on the edge of the bed and painting his fingernails, interjects, “I’m putting my name in the hat if he says no to you. I’ve never been against a man with a little cushion and some fuzz.”

Monica: “Oh, you’ll do anybody, you little whore!”
Monica yells jokingly.

Antonio: “Guiltyyyyyy!” Antonio chimes in.

Xtacee: “This is why I love the two of you so much. There’s never a dull moment-”

Sure, there’s never a dull moment when Monica and Antonio are around. Xperienx Xtacee always surrounds himself with the best people, people that will always make sure he reaches the heights he wants to reach, people that he can trust and believe in, and people that he can bring to the promised land… But is the Undisputed Alliance amongst those people? They seem trustworthy, reliable, friendly, and open to his eccentric, or x-centric, way of living… but there’s that doubt seeping in just like before the Carnal Contendership. Xtacee did well, but he didn’t win. Will this be more of the same, or will his positive expectation actually come to be?

Xtacee: “They’ll… will they be more of the same?”, Xtacee speaks in just above a whisper.

Monica: “What’s that, love?” Monica says as she turns around in her chair.

Antonio looks up with a bit of worry on his face and then looks at Monica and then at Xtacee. As if responding to a cue, Monica gets up from her seat, retrieves a bottle of water from the fridge, and takes something out of her purse. She gives both of these things to Xtacee, who shakes his head to say thank you before drinking whatever Monica had taken from her purse.
The silence within fills the room, causing an awkward moment without the usual flamboyance of the trio.

Antonio: “Well,” Antonio breaks the silence, “you’re right; it’s going to be more the same. More fun, more love, more doing well, and more Xtacee! This time, we’ll have those two handsome men with us!”

Monica: “Geez, I can see your pants get tighter from here, Antonio.”

Antonio: “Oh hush, don’t act like Nate Savage didn’t make you shiver.”

Xtacee: “You did ask me to send that message after all.”

Monica: “Oh, you both like him too.”

Xtacee: “Hmph, and that is a fact, but I think I like that Jackson boy a lot more.”


There’s a knocking on the locker room door that interrupts their conversation.

Antonio: “Is that Jackson and Nate? Come right in, boys!”

Jackson and Nate enter the room, well Jackson enters first, and he has to pull Nate by the arm to get him to come in. Nate looks upset, while Jackson is all smiles.

Jackson Fenix: “Hey everyone, good to see you all again. I got the message about a team meeting, so we arrived as soon as possible.”

Nate Savage: “I’m not doing it.”

Jackson Fenix: “What? Whoa, calm down, Nate.”

Nate Savage: “I am calm like you asked, but I’m not doing whatever they want me to do.”

Jackson Fenix: “I know, I know. Hey, is there any way we could like not to go through with that
proposal?”

Xtacee: “Oh, absolutely! Nobody is being forced to do anything they wouldn’t want to do! You see, Monica is just extremely infatuated with Mr. Nasty over there. She cannot contain herself.”


Standing up and walking over to the UA, Monica looks Nate Savage up and down before turning to sit on the bed by Xtacee.

Monica: “You’re just my type. And nobody here is afraid to share. Buuuuut, I understand if you say no, I won’t be offended at all, don’t worry, love.”

Nate Savage: “I was going to say no offense, but yeah, I am admittedly flattered, but I do have to decline that offer.”

Antonio: “Can I throw my hat in the race then, Nate?”
he says with a wink and blows a kiss.

Nate looks at Jackson nervously and then back at Antonio.

Nate Savage: “Again, I am flattered, but I’m afraid I’ll have to decline. I hope you understand.”

Antonio puts on a playful pouty face and then laughs.

Antonio: “I understand, but we’ll always be here if you change your mind, right Monica?”

Monica just licks her lips.

Nate laughs nervously.

Nate Savage: “I’ll be sure to keep that in mind for future reference.”

Jackson laughs with him and thinks of a way to change the subject.

Jackson Fenix: “Hey, how about The Bad Boys Boy Band? What will we do about those guys in our debut match?”

Xtacee sits up in the bed, the comforter still covering his lower body. He places his hand on his chin, pondering the question from Jackson Fenix.

Xtacee: “Hm, well, that is the question of the hour, isn’t it? I suppose they have a bit more experience, pun intended, as a trios act than we do since we just hooked up. Their chemistry is most likely very good, so it won’t be something we can push to the side. But maybe that is exactly what we can abuse.”

Jackson Fenix: “I was thinking the same thing, and I was also thinking about their taste in music. Boy bands were never my thing; to each their own, but if we’re talking 90s pop, then there’s only one pop princess that matters.”

Nate Savage: “Jack, I don’t think your Britney obsession will help with this match.”

Jackson Fenix: “I know; I just wanted a reason to say they have questionable taste in music.”

Nate Savage: “Look, XX is right. We can use their chemistry against them to pick up the win. They may not seem like much, but they’ve picked up some fairly big wins due to questionable tactics, but still, we can’t tread lightly here.”

Xtacee: “If there’s anything I’ve learned about boy bands, aside from their admittedly questionable music taste like Jackson said, it’s that whenever the members go solo… the act is never as good. They work well together, but perhaps we should see how well they do if the band breaks up.”

Monica: “X is onto something there. He usually does things independently, albeit with our assistance, and you two know how to be a team. They don’t vibe the same way if they aren’t in their little three-way.”

Jackson Fenix: “Yeah, I see what you’re saying. Take them down one by one until only one of them is left, and then we go in for the kill.”

Nate Savage: “That sounds about right, and people know what to expect from them as a group. People aren’t going to know what to expect from us together. We must come out of the gate looking strong as we head toward the trios battle royale at Back in Business. Back in Business hasn’t done well for us in the past, but that can change this year.”

Xtacee: “Well, with this change in… positions, I believe that we can make sure to have the Undisputed Xperienx come out on top over and over and over.”

Jackson Fenix: “If there’s one thing I have experience in, it’s coming out on top.”

Antonio: “Heyooooo!”

Nate Savage: “Was that a sexual innuendo?”

Jackson Fenix: “Heh, yeah, but it’s true.”

Nate Savage: “It’s always something with you. You need to get your mind out of the gutter.”

Xtacee: “Oh no, honey, he needs to go in deeper. From the top or the bottom, I’ll definitely be here to provide support for the both of you.”

Jackson Fenix: “We’ll always come out on top, but being on the bottom has its perks in other situations.”

Nate Savage: “In this situation, though, that’s not where we want to be. We will reach the top and stay there. Fallout, the Bad Boys Boy Band will go down, and at Back in Business, everyone else will experience a little Xtacee.”

Monica: “He said the thing!”
she claps happily.

Jackson Fenix: “Hey, that…that is undisputed, my friend.”

Nate Savage: “Heh, yeah, I said it. It works.”


Xperienx Xtacee throws the comforter off of himself and stands from the bed, revealing he is wearing nothing but the tightest red banana hammock you’ve ever seen in your life.

Xtacee: “Feel free to stay, boys; Monica and Antonio can provide you with some refreshments and food. I’m going to head into the shower. The invitation is always open, by the way.”

Xtacee walks off to do as he said.

Nate shrugs.

Nate Savage: “Hey, as long as there’s food, I’m good.”
 
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Bellatrix Bordeaux and friends in…
nEdp5fHgJ5V2_uYKR_YVfmczPeW4KB1kIqMniWvJYKFo6ZX7_-o47EbXYszNsdNnypyGopWQv_dLGZTviP1pbsIVTys7Z1-bMM-77AChw_eLMWE7G9_wIx_y-W40FJAoH72AKFQxl0CDlkTIgyvo4YE



The final frontier.

These are the voyages of the U.S.S. Friendship. Her continuing mission: To explore strange worlds; to seek out new worlds and new civilizations; to boldly make friends with everybody they meet along the way.


Star Trek: The Next Generation theme (HQ)


Prologue


When Trixie’s brother had managed to convince her to join the Fed (The United Federation of Planet), even her very creative imagination couldn’t have dreamed of this moment…

A young woman from Baton Rouge, who had never even left Louisiana before signing up to the academy. A young woman who, for pretty much her entire life, was told that she was too stupid and weak to succeed in anything, and yet…

…she had just passed Ray Gun class!

Now granted, literally everyone in the Fed had gotten top marks in Ray Gun, but for Trixie, it was different. See, despite the fact that Ray Gun is one of the single easiest classes to pass in the entire academy, Trixie had struggled immensely to get through it. She had taken the test once before, and had been on the receiving end of a devastating defeat…she had gotten an F. This defeat had completely demoralised the young woman, and had sent her into a whirlwind of thoughts telling her to give up. Telling her that she wasn’t good enough. Strong enough. Smart enough. She had wanted so badly to quit. To go back to her little room in Louisiana and hide away, too ashamed to ever show her face again…

…but she didn’t.

See, the academy had been a tough time for Trixie. She had failed almost every challenge put in front of her. She had been slow to learn the necessary skills required to succeed. She had been bullied persistently by these British assholes pretty much ever since she joined, for no reason whatsoever, other than they just enjoyed making her suffer…they stabbed her in the face with a fork…

A FUCKING FORK!

X49f8LX5UDiT16CMQuCECtV2fSHqOEOZ_K1RDZl3YcznNhK1wIIPglZ8svju4wSvdfBYuqhs5Gml8kfu6pJdd9Vk7hymIW6Nfu966YdQBarqkzPG782daJXCWTji4s47MGG0R2Iv6QW44LVVCAOvbTQ

But regardless of this constant abuse and torture, Trixie had found something else during her time in the Fed. Something that filled her heart with joy, happiness, and a feeling of belonging, things that she hadn’t really felt all too much before. She had found the only thing she had ever truly wanted…

…friendship.

This friendship, and the people who gave it to her, is what kept Trixie going. She stayed, despite the voice in her head telling her how utterly useless she was, and that she wasn’t good enough to be there, because she didn’t want to abandon her new friends. Her only friends. These people helped Trixie find success. In group assignments, where students are paired together in competition against another team, Trixie and her new friends won. The feeling Trixie felt when her and her friends celebrated their success was everything to Trixie…but, deep down, she felt as though she hadn’t earned those victories. She knew that she only won because of the skills and smarts of her friends, not because she deserved it. She really wanted to stay in the Fed, but in order to do so, she had to prove that she could succeed alone…and boy did she.

She entered the Ray Gun test full of fear and doubt. She had failed the test before. If she failed again, then surely the academy Overseers would decide that Trixie isn’t worth the hassle and kick her out. Sending her away from her friends, who she would never see again…she would never let that happen. She put on a brave face and summoned every ounce of fight she had, which turned out to be A LOT, and she passed the test. Even when the bullies tried to intervene and sabotage the test so that Trixie would fail, Trixie’s friends were there to foil their plans, and Trixie passed. SHE passed. She WAS good enough…


Act 1: USS Friendship.


Stardate: 76914.2


BUukwc8FfN6Kt3USgYFAfjJhuvW_2hRdzNRK8d9wKDbpWA0x5pq_jcjVIZnuwHuCd9-HxLwfyETzghyUFf8USj8K5SYwiWYBA--bOyllNePmvhWH401awONvoG3mqejOfIjhbEyE3frroGyhvsM_PTI



“I AM GOOD ENOUGH!” Trixie thinks to herself as she sits in the shuttlecraft, her face a picture of excitement mixed with a whole heap of nerves as the shuttle carries her to her destination.

Having passed the Ray Gun test, Trixie had earned enough credit to be allowed to take part in a training cruise. Considering her career path, you’d expect a trip from the academy on Earth to the Spaceship orbiting the planet to be just another day at the office, and yet, rather surprisingly, this short little taxi ride marked the first time that the dotty young woman had ever left Earth.

As Trixie’s shuttle leaves the Earth’s atmosphere, Trixie’s eyes gaze out of the viewport in sheer amazement.

“There it is!” Trixie hisses excitedly as she nudges the female cadet sitting next to her. “Look!”

“I know what it looks like, Trix,” The annoyed cadet responds.

Taking up two seats to Trixie’s right, Blair Ravenwood, who looks annoyed at having to sit next to the excitable Trixie, and her sister Celestia, who looks at her sister with a smug expression, happy to be further away.

“Woah…” Trixie mutters in amazement as she gets out of her seat and presses her face against the viewport glass, trying to get as close a look as possible at the marvellous sight before her.

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“It looks so cool…” Trixie says longingly, as though she wishes it were currently a toy in the palm of her hand. “What’s it called?”

“The U.S.S. Friendship.” Celestia answers, her head shaking in disappointment. “Whoever came up with that name should be shot, with phasers set to kill.”

“Shoot the designer while you’re at it,” Blair adds, looking unimpressed. “It looks like ass, and on top of that, it couldn’t win a gunfight against an army of Tribbles, let alone a Nephew Warship.”

“I dunno, the Nephews took heavy losses at the battle of Don Haskins.” Celestia replies, her face one of pride as she imagines Nephew Warships being blown to pieces.

“Wish I was there to see the look on Commander Horrowitz’s face as she watched her ship explode through the window of her escape pod.” Celestia’s face changes from a celebratory grin, to concern, as the thought of Horrowitz’s escape fills her mind with dread, having heard countless stories of her many victories in battle. “Can’t believe she got away.”

“Don’t worry, she ain’t what she used to be.” Celestia responds hopefully, “The Fed will catch up with her eventually, and they’ll take her down…and if they don’t, then there are countless other people who hate the Nephews.”

As the sisters converse about the ongoing hostilities between the Fed and the Nephew faction that looks to overthrow it, a voice resonates from the shuttle’s intercom.

“Crew Transport Omega, this is the USS Friendship. You are cleared for landing in shuttlebay one.”

“Thank you, Friendship. We’re making our approach.”. An officer in a red uniform responds from the pilot seat.

A jolt of acceleration rocks everyone momentarily, and knocks Trixie completely off her feet, sending her tumbling butt first onto the hard floor surface.

“Oww!” Trixie yelps in surprise more than anything. “What the hell?”

“Hahahahaha, have a nice trip, Trix?” Blair blurts out, laughing. “Teach you to get out of your seat, won’t it?”

“Shut up…” Trixie says sulkingly, her head dipping in embarrassment as she sits on the floor, not wanting to get up for fear of being knocked back over.

“Pilot’s first time, by the looks of it. Ship’s rockier than a Sly Stallone boxing movie.” Celestia says, receiving a scornful glance from the pilot for her remark.

With the pilot seemingly taking this criticism to heart, the rest of the journey to the Friendship’s shuttlebay was smooth sailing for the passengers of Crew Transport Omega, and soon, they were safely aboard the USS Friendship, ready to begin their training cruise.

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As she stands in the turbolift, being propelled to her destination at an incredible speed, Trixie’s heart races…

“I am good enough.” Trixie says, trying to convince herself of this fact.

The young woman had hoped that Blair and Celestia would be assigned to the same area of the ship as she was, but alas, the Ravenwood sisters had been assigned to Engineering, the central point for control of all engineering systems aboard a starship, and the area that houses the ship’s matter/antimatter reaction chamber, otherwise known as “The Warp Core”.

Trixie would not be joining them in Engineering, for she had been assigned to a different post…

…The Bridge.

The turbolift comes to a sudden stop, and a moment later, the turbolift doors slide open…Trixie’s eyes widen in amazement as a magnificent scene unveils itself to her.

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“Woah…” Trixie mutters quietly, her jaw damn near touching the floor as she peaks her head out of the turbolift, trying to get a closer look, but too nervous to walk onto the bridge. “This is so cool.”

As Trixie peers out from inside the turbolift, a voice that brims with authority can be heard resonating through the large room.

“Ensign, open a ship-wide channel, please.” The authoritative voice orders.

“Aye Captain.” A male voice responds.

There’s a brief pause, before the “Captain” speaks once more.

“Attention all hands…this is the Captain.”

As the Captain begins to address his ship, Trixie nervously creeps out of the turbolift, trying to get a closer look at everything.

“We are gathered here today in celebration.” The Captain says, his voice echoing through the entire ship and touching every ear. “Not for my recent victory over the notorious war criminal, and Nephew, Michelle von Horrowitz, and her pesky little minions…although, I will accept a small round of applause if you deem it necessary…”

As Trixie slowly creeps onto the bridge itself, she sees each and every member of the bridge crew give the Captain an enthusiastic applause, to which the Captain graciously accepts with a smile…a smile highlighted by his thick moustache.

“Why thank you…you’re too kind.” He says, bowing slightly before continuing. “But no, we’re not here today to celebrate the great deeds of days past…nah, we’re here today to celebrate…friendship.”

Trixie lets out an empowered little smile as she watches and listens to the Captain give his impassioned speech.

“The ultimate goal of the Fed, above everything else, is to build everlasting friendships with the new worlds and new peoples we encounter, and to help and support the friends that we have already made.”

As she listens to the Captain’s speech, a realisation begins to set in for Trixie…she truly does belong here, in this Fed. This is where she is meant to be.

“There are, however, those in the galaxy who do not share our desire for friendship. There are those who wish not to spread peace and love across the stars as we do. There are those, like the Nephews, and their leaders, who would prefer to rule over, than to make friends with.”

Trixie frowns. Why on earth would these Nephews think like this?

“Sure, they may occasionally put on a friendly smile and attempt to lure you in, but make no mistake, they only want you for what you can do for them, and once they feel as though your usefulness has expired, they will discard you like an empty Candy wrapper.”

Trixie scowls. These Nephews are pure evil! They need to be stopped!

“The Nephews are a cancer to the galaxy, and they must be stopped. So, when I say that we are here to celebrate friendship, I mean it. This ship, and each and every one of us who serve aboard her, are to act as a beacon of friendship. The bonds that we create with each other. The friendships that we share…this is the cure to the cancer that the Nephews spread.”

Trixie nods in understanding. Only through sticking together and having each other's back can we defeat the Nephews.

“And so here we all are, aboard the USS Friendship, ready to embark on this training cruise. All I ask from each of you is to interact with as many new faces as you can see. Work together. Build trust. Speak to one another. Get to know each other. Make friends with each other…

…that’s an order.”

As the Captain signals to close the channel, everyone on the bridge erupts into a thunderous applause, with no one clapping harder than Trixie Bordeaux.

“Right then…Tommy!” The Captain calls out with a smile.

“Howdy, Captain. Nice speech! Very heartwarming, in a bleh kind of way.” Tommy says with a cheeky grin.

“Good. I’d feel like I did it wrong if you actually liked it.” The Captain smirks, “Say Tommy, you don’t happen to know where my new First Officer is, do you?”

“What’s their name?” Tommy asks as he sits down at his console, ready to perform a search.

“Bellatrix Bordeaux.” The Captain answers.

As Tommy begins to search the database for Bellatrix Bordeaux, Trixie can be seen creeping towards them.

“Uh, C-C-Captain?” Trixie calls nervously.

The Captain turns on his heels to face the dotty young woman, and smiles in recognition at the sight of her.

“Nevermind Tommy, she’s found us.” The Captain says with a warm smile. “Nice to meet you! Say, do you prefer me to call you Bellatrix? Bordeaux? Cadet Bordeaux?”

“U-Uh, I don’t mind, C-Captain.” Trixie answers, her head facing the floor, too nervous to look anyone in the eyes.

“Well, what do your friends call you?”

“U-Uh, T-Trixie, sir.”

“Trixie. Well Trixie, my name’s Captain Christopher Peacock. People tend to refer to me as Captain.” Captain Peacock says, introducing himself. “So, you reporting for duty, Trixie?”

“Uh, y-yes, Captain.” Trixie says, bravely straightening herself, standing to attention and trying to battle her nerves.

Captain Peacock smiles at the young woman as she puts on a brave face.

“Good, ‘cause I’ve got a very important job for you.” The Captain says, pausing a moment to allow Trixie to mentally brace herself. “You, my friend, are to act as First Officer for this little training cruise.”

Trixie’s jaw drops slightly. First Officer? First? But she’s Trixie! She’s never been first in anything! Seeing Trixie’s shocked expression, Peacock smiles, before continuing.

“It’s your job to ensure that my orders are followed through efficiently and effectively, and to inform me if you feel as though there is a flaw in my decision making. Your highest priority is to safeguard the lives of this crew, and if you can, her Captain. And, in the event of my absence, incapacitation, or death, you are to take command of the Friendship until completion of the mission. Understood?”

Having listened intently to her role during this mission, Trixie can’t help but feel as though she is in WAY over her head as she thinks to herself, “I’m not good enough…”. Not wanting the Captain to think less of her, Trixie simply nods.

“Good…let's begin, shall we?” The Captain says rhetorically, before directing to her seat, next to his.

Trixie rushes anxiously to her seat, and the Captain follows suit, looking as calm as can be. With each of them taking their respective seats, the Captain raises his voice once more.

“Katsu, set a course for the Monterrey system, warp six.”

“Yes, Captain.” A young Japanese woman in a red mask and uniform says, as several beeping sounds resonate through the room as she presses buttons on the console in front of her.

The Captain takes one more glance towards Trixie.

“You ready, Trixie?”

Trixie doesn’t answer straight away. “No.” is the first thought that comes to mind. How could she possibly be ready for this? She had only barely passed Ray Gun! And now she’s on a starship, about to be shot through space at incredible speeds and, should the Captain leave or die, then Trixie’s gonna have to tell everyone what to do! “I can’t do this,” she thinks to herself. “I’m not good enough.”. She wishes she could say these things aloud, however…

“Y-Yes Captain.” Trixie says…the question is, was her answer a sign of bravery? Or stupidity?

Either way, the Captain smiles, before facing straight forward and pausing…





“Let's dance.”

And with that, the ship, the crew, and Trixie, disappeared without a trace, heading for the stars.

Act 2: The Face of The Enemy.


Flying through Stars Warp Speed Space Universe Spaceship | 8 Hours Screensaver


To Trixie’s surprise, the trip thus far had been incredibly smooth sailing. They were shooting through space at astronomical speeds, and yet nothing has gone wrong…not so much as a hiccup.

“This is easy!” She thinks to herself as she sits in her extremely comfy chair next to the Captain. In the past two hours, Trixie hasn’t had much to do. The Captain went for a pee and left Trixie in charge of the ship, and nothing blew up! “Yep, it’s a Captain’s life for me.”

As Trixie imagines all the adventures she’s going to have after she graduates from the academy and becomes a Captain for real, a female voice speaks from behind Trixie.

“Captain?”

Captain Peacock and Trixie turn towards the direction of the voice.

“Yes, Lizzie?”

A Slight young woman in a yellow uniform, Lizzie continues.

“Uh, we’re receiving an audio transmission, sir.”

“Well, let’s hear it!” The Captain responds, a curious expression on his face.

After a moment, the distorted audio recording begins to play.

“My name is Jon Snowmantashi! I need help! We brought someone aboard our ship. We thought she needed help…she’s killing everyone! If anyone is receiving this, PLEASE! HEL-”

“Lizzie?” The Captain asks, a look of concern on his face.

“That was it, Captain. That’s where the transmission ended.”

As the Captain thinks, Trixie speaks up.

“W-We need to help them!” She shouts panickedly.

The Captain nods in agreement.

“Lizzie, can you track the transmission back to its source?”

“Aye, Captain.”

“Good. Once you’ve found the ship, give its location to Katsu and get us there, maximum warp.”

“Yes, Captain.” Lizzie and Katsu respond in unison.

“Trixie, can I speak to you in my ready room, please?” The Captain asks.

“Uh, y-yes Captain.” Trixie responds, her nerves flaring up again as Captain Peacock leads her to his ready room.

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The doors to Captain Peacock’s ready room close, and the Captain turns to face Trixie, who looks anxious, as though she’s in the principal's office, waiting to be shouted at for something she did wrong.

“Trixie,” The Captain says, his tone deadly serious. “That message…the man said that he let ‘someone’ aboard, and that ‘she’ was killing everyone.”

The look in Captain Peacock’s eyes sends shivers down Trixie’s spine…he looks, afraid? But, how can someone as cool and awesome as Captain Peacock be afraid!?

“There is only one woman in the entire galaxy that I can think of who could strike such fear into a person, and if my hunch is correct…I need you to listen to me, okay?”

“O-Okay…” Trixie nods, her heartbeat getting faster and faster as she witnesses a Fed Captain, with a cool moustache, show such fear.

“Good…now, when we reach the location of that transmission, it is entirely likely that the entire crew aboard that ship are dead.”

Trixie’s eyes widen with horror. One woman!? Killing an entire ship full of people!?

“If that is the case, then there’s only one woman that could be…Michelle von Horrowitz.” Captain Peacock says, uttering her name as though she’s Lord Voldemort or something.

Trixie’s fear eases slightly.

“But, didn’t you kick Michelle von Horrowitz’s butt?” Trixie asks with hope in her eyes. Surely, if he beat her before, then Captain Peacock could do so again!

“It’s not that simple. The last time Horrowitz and I engaged in battle, I won, yes, but she managed to escape. If my hunch is correct, then her escape led to the death of everyone aboard that ship. We can’t let her escape again. We need to bring her to justice.”

“How do we do that?” Trixie asks, 100% positive that the Captain would know exactly what to do.



“I dunno,” Captain Peacock admits, looking disappointed in himself. “If Horrowitz is the only one left alive on that ship, then there’s no way she’d fight us head on…she’s too smart for that. Truth be told, I have no idea what her reaction would be.”

A wave of frustration descends upon Trixie, exacerbated by the fear building up inside her as she, and the USS Friendship, flies towards this monster at an incredible speed.

“Then what the heck did you bring me in here for!?” Trixie asks, her voice raised in frustration.

“I needed to make sure that you are prepar-”

Before the Captain could finish, a voice calls through his combadge.

“Captain, we are about to reach the coordinates of the transmission.”

Trixie’s eyes widen, and her anxiety intensifies. Trying her hardest to appear brave in front of the Captain, Trixie manages to catch herself and put on a brave face.

“Understood.” The Captain responds, before taking a deep breath. He looks down at Trixie as she stands at attention, a sturdy expression on her face, and he smirks. “Well, here goes something. After you.”

The Captain points Trixie towards the door, and they both exit the ready room and make their way back onto the bridge.

NHS80PlsiLl3xCNbKNVtDBR9whhmD2ZI1F8DhNE7yLwJbdEHzmMHY_y06kemGiB5519ZXD8NgNhhHrZKiXC6M4hLMUWSM9UWcIuYSNxGnxuuS-xkX4abMV67Odf41I7CgR8KOUOWzrQt8iqck6_XUtg


“We are about to exit warp now, Captain.” Katsu says, as she flies the ship ever closer to their destination.

A moment later, the USS Friendship decelerates, and comes to a halt.

“Lizzie, open a channel to the ship.”

“Aye, Captain.”

After a moment of silence, Lizzie speaks up again.

“No response, Captain.”

“Tommy, can you give us a closer look at what we’re dealing with here?”

“Can do.” Tommy responds, before touching a couple of buttons on his console. A moment later, a magnified image of the recently attacked ship appears on the viewscreen.

PYAjtHp2KgMHgRKnuokwvb2bW4gEuRHixilXNEmo5PJeOUtqnRd6ofGzkJ5sVszprza3pCvq0AVwSbppzbllXa477ywxGmVkF925Jbr1J3DTKd0vBJ2GPuf-8U0jbILspLsDrCJJmXKStMcr9GBxStg

“Tommy, I said ‘a closer look’.” The Captain says, looking at Tommy with an annoyed expression.

“Well, that’s as close as you’re gonna get, Captain. I’m at full magnification.”

A relieved, goofy smile forms on Trixie’s face as she stares at the viewscreen.

“It’s so tiny!” She says, giggling.

The Captain, knowing better than to judge a book by its cover, doesn’t smile, or giggle.

“Lizzie, scan for lifesigns.” Captain Peacock says, his tone deadly serious.

After a moment's pause, Lizzie responds.

“One lifesign aboard, Captain.”

The Captain nods.

“Try hailing them agai-”

“They’re hailing us, Captain.” Lizzie interjects.

Captain Peacock and Trixie exchange nervous looks, both of them hoping for the same thing…that the person on the other end of this hail, is NOT Michelle von Horrowitz.

“Onscreen.” The Captain orders, taking his place in the Captain’s chair.

After a brief pause, someone appears on the viewscreen…



“Ah, Christopher! Nice to see you again, my old friend.”

Captain Peacock’s eyes closed, and a small scowl forms on his face. Seeing his reaction, Trixie knew…this was indeed Michelle von Horrowitz. What Trixie didn’t know was, why does everyone seem to be so scared of this woman? As Trixie stares at the woman on the screen, she doesn’t see someone who is capable of the destruction that her name is associated with…she just sees an ordinary lady.

Seemingly noticing the dotty young woman staring at her, Horrowitz’s eyes fall upon Trixie. Michelle smiles warmly.

“Aren’t you a little young to be sitting in that chair, tulip?” Michelle says, curiously, as she gazes upon Trixie, who’s sitting in the first officer’s chair, next to the Captain.

Trixie, unnerved a little as the oversized face on the viewscreen stares her down, breaks eye contact with the infamous warlord.

“I-I, uh…I’m only a cade-”

“There’s only two ways this is gonna end, Horrowitz,” The Captain interrupts Trixie, before rising to his feet, “either you surrender, and we beam you directly to our brig, or, you try to figh-”

“I apologise for your Captain’s discourteous interruption…I’m sorry, I didn’t catch your name?” Horrowitz interrupts, her eyes still fixed on Trixie.

Captain Peacock’s frustration shows at having been interrupted, meanwhile, Trixie speaks up nervously.

“T-Trixie…my name’s Trixie.”

“That’s such a lovely name, Trixie.” Horrowitz responds, smiling warmly. “My name’s Michelle. Tell me, Trixie, how did someone so young wind up in such a prominent position aboard a Fed starship?”

“Don’t answer her, Trixie.” Captain Peacock orders.

“Now now, Christopher, I thought that freedom of speech was a founding principle of the Fed,” Michelle responds, before turning her attention back to Trixie. “Trixie, my dear, your Captain may outrank you, but he doesn’t have the power to stifle your right to speak…if you wish to do so, please, answer my question.”

“Trixie, don’t…” Captain Peacock says with a pleading tone.

Staring at her Captain, who gives her a stern look, Trixie decides to remain silent, fearing winding up in trouble. She lowers her head in a sulk.

Seeing this, Michelle shakes her head disappointedly.

“My apologies…I hadn’t realised that a citizen of the Fed needed permission from a superior to be allowed to speak.”

Trixie’s head remains lowered, as she wonders what she did that was so wrong that Captain Peacock won’t let her speak.

“I’ll make it short and sweet for you, Horrowitz. Surrender, flee, or fight. Regardless of the path you choose to take, you will not escape. Your reign of terror ends today.”

“Oh, so dramatic, Christopher…tell you what, how about we make a deal?” Michelle asks, a playful expression on her face. “I’ll surrender myself to you. I will lower my shields and allow you to transport me to your ship’s prison.”

Captain Peacock’s eyebrows raise slightly, clearly not expecting this.

“Really? Just like that? No drama?” Captain Peacock asks, his tone containing a great deal of mistrust.

“Just. Like. That.” Michelle responds, smirking.

“Okay…in exchange for what?” The Captain asks, expecting some ridiculous, impossible demand.

“I want to speak with Trixie.” Michelle says, her smile fading and her expression becoming deadly serious.

The Captain glances at Trixie, who’s head shoots up at Michelle, a shocked expression on her face.

“Why?” Peacock asks, confused. “Why give yourself up, just to have a conversation with Trixie?”

“That’s my deal, Christopher.” Michelle says, completely ignoring Captain Peacock’s question. “I turn myself in without a fight, and in return, Trixie and I get to have a little chat.”

Both Trixie and Michelle stare at the Captain, who himself, stares back at Trixie.

“I’ll do it.” Trixie says, bravely, causing Michelle to smirk. “You said that we need to ‘bring her to justice’. If this is what it takes, then I’ll do it.”

Taking a moment to think, Captain Peacock palms his face and sighs, before looking at Trixie once more. He nods.

“Okay. Deal. Lower your shields, and we’ll transport you directly to our brig.” The Captain says, before adding begrudgingly. “Trixie and I will joi-“

“No no,” Michelle interrupts, wagging her finger disapprovingly. “Just Trixie…alone.”

Captain Peacock scowls.

“…fine.”

Hearing Peacock agree to her terms, Michelle smiles deviously, as the scene fades.


Act 3: A Therapy Session.


Much to everyone’s surprise, Michelle did exactly as she had promised. She had lowered the shields of the ship she had captured, and allowed the USS Friendship to beam her directly to the brig. As a result of the Nephew keeping her side of the agreement, Captain Peacock was begrudgingly bound by honour to hold up his, and more importantly, Trixie’s end of the agreement.

After a long conversation with her Captain, who told her all of the things that she’s NOT allowed to talk about with Michelle, Trixie finds herself standing outside of the door to the ship’s brig, trying to muster the courage to press the buzzer so that she would be granted access.

“She can’t be as bad as everyone says she is.” Trixie thinks to herself, wishfully, “she’s just a normal lady! And, even if she does try to kill me, she can’t! She’s locked up! So, it’s all nice and safe…”

Trixie gulps, clearly having failed in her attempts to convince herself of her safety, before courageously pressing the buzzer on the door.

A moment later, the door opens…

5tcX2LdqCuajg0fy8M2kXq2KezSYlozESeilzspkcF7Dktgvn1i3s4ARtf1iaTH5zkynuxrIz24Rucg3wlt_kKmUWh1H2WicbBKic-9BWa_q49NX2MjmcN2Vc8P6vuIEq4KViL14YB9pZK9x0LhzLeM


“K-Kleio!?” Trixie smiles gleefully.

“Hello, Trix,” Kleio responds, her face deadly serious. “You want me to stay here with you?”

Kleio and her prisoner, Michelle von Horrowitz, who is detained behind a level 8 force field, stare each other in the eyes, neither budging an inch. Michelle seems to be enjoying the tension, as she sports a playful smirk.

“Uh, M-Miss Horrowitz wants to speak to me alone.” Trixie said trepidatiously, wishing so much that Kleio could stay with her.

“Well, if she tries anything, I’d be on the other side of that door.” Kleio says, continuing her staring contest a moment longer, with her hand resting on her phaser, holstered to her hip.

A moment later, Kleio begrudgingly breaks eye contact and exits the room, with Michelle giving her a little wave goodbye as she leaves.

The hydraulic doors shut, leaving Trixie and Michelle alone.







“Why isn’t she saying anything?” Trixie thinks to herself, as Michelle stares at her, looking amuzed.

After a few more seconds of silence, Trixie bravely speaks up, unable to bare the tension any longer.

“U-Uh, so-...”

“Well, aren’t you going to sit down?” Michelle asks, completely interrupting Trixie.

“O-...uh…” The flustered young woman stutters, before noticing a chair directly in front of Michelle’s cell. Not wanting to anger the woman, Trixie shuffles herself towards the chair and sits down, her anxiety rising as now less than a metre separates her with the most dangerous woman in the galaxy.

“I hope this force field holds.” Trixie thinks to herself, as she stares at Michelle’s tits…not in a creepy way, more in the sense that she’s too intimidated to look her in the eyes.

“Now that Christopher isn’t here to interrupt you, I suppose I’ll ask again…how come someone as young as you ended up as a first officer aboard a Fed starship?” Michelle asks, curiously.

Trixie doesn’t answer straight away. She tries to remember everything that Captain Peacock told her NOT to talk about, but they seem to have slipped her mind as she sits opposite this legendarily dangerous woman.

“I Uh…” Trying to think of what to say, Trixie decides in the moment to tell the truth, as she’s afraid of the possible consequences should Michelle realise that she’s lying. “I-I’m only a cadet. We’re just doing a training thingy.”

Michelle smirks while nodding understandingly.

“Ah, I see. Explains why ‘Captain Peacock…” Michelle says in a mocking tone, “was so hesitant to make this encounter violent…he’s not usually like that, you know. He’s more of the ‘fire first, apologise for the mess later’ kind of person. Thank you for being honest with me, Trixie. No doubt that Christopher had instructed you not to speak on certain subjects?”

“Uh…”

Now that she mentioned it, Trixie could swear that Captain Peacock had said something about Trixie NOT mentioning that they were on a training cruise…”Uh oh…” Trixie thinks to herself upon receiving this recollection.

“I figured as much,” Michelle says, nodding, “it’s a shame, really…that he tries to put his own words in your mouth. At least you’ve proven that you’re not a simple puppet.”

As Michelle says this, Trixie’s mind scrambles in a panic to remember what else Captain Peacock told her NOT to talk about, not wanting to leak any more vital information.

“Well, your instructors at the Fed academy must think very highly of you, to place you in such an important role for a training cruise. You must be quite the remarkable young woman.”

Trixie’s head dips slightly in shame. She barely passed a test that everyone passes with ease, and it took her two attempts to do so. Also, she has done a grand total of nothing since coming aboard this ship, just sitting next to Captain Peacock and twiddling her thumbs…needless to say, Trixie doesn’t feel like “quite the remarkable young women”.

“You don’t agree?” Michelle asks, spotting Trixie’s embarrassed demeanour.

Trixie, without thinking, shakes her head ‘no’ in response to Michelle’s question, before realising what she did, and her head dips even more. Michelle smirks, seemingly enjoying Trixie’s unfiltered honesty.

“Why would you think so lowly of yourself?” Michelle asks, managing to project a caring presence.

Trixie mind wanders back to the ass kicking she received that one Summer…and that other Summer. She remembers failing the Ray Gun test the first time around, a test that almost no one ever fails. She remembers all the times that her friends had to carry her to success in the team exercises. These memories do nothing to improve her self-esteem.

“I, uh…” Not the world’s most cunning linguist, Trixie struggles to think of the words. “I dunno…”

“I think you do know.” Michelle says, bluntly. “Somewhere inside this mind of yours is the answer to my question…I think you’re just too afraid to confront it.”

Trixie takes offence to Michelle calling her a scaredy cat, and the young woman’s head shoots up, and for a split second, she glares at Michelle, dead in the eyes. Quickly, Trixie breaks eye contact. She had never seen anything like it. Michelle is locked up in a prison cell, on her way to face the judgement of the Fed, and yet…she seems to be enjoying herself. This thought unnerves Trixie.

“I don’t believe you’re a coward, Trixie.” Michelle says, with Trixie’s brief burst of fire amusing the infamous warlord. “A coward wouldn’t have agreed to be left alone in a room with someone with my reputation. I do think, however, that there are things deep inside you. Fears. Doubts. Opinions about yourself that eat away at you. They devour your confidence, and make you feel as though you’re not good enough. They make you feel as though you don’t belong….They make you feel worthless.”

Trixie’s fists clench in frustration as Michelle reads her like a children’s book. She tries her best to shut her mind off, convinced that the Nephew is reading it somehow. Michelle, seeing Trixie’s frustrations bubbling, smirks playfully, looking as though she’s having a blast as she plays around with her new toy.

“Am I wrong?”

“Yes.” Trixie snaps, stubbornly.

Michelle chuckles, amused at Trixie’s response.

“Is that so?”

“Uh-huh.” Trixie says, refusing to admit anything.

“Fair enough. I guess I misread you.” Michelle says, feigning disappointment. “...soooooo, what do you do for-”

“Why did you ask to talk to me?” Trixie asks in a moment of bravery.

Michelle looks taken aback, confused by Trixie’s question.

“You’re the one that wanted this conversation, Trixie.” Michelle says, looking bewildered.

Trixie glares at the Nephew, frustrated by Michelle’s games.

“Noooooo, you made the deal with Captain Peacock! You said “That’s my deal, Christopher. I turn myself in without a fight, and in return, Trixie and I get to have a little chat!”” Trixie says, childishly imitating Michelle’s Hollandic accent as she recites her words.

Michelle chuckles, amused by Trixie’s performance.

“Yes, I did say that, but this whole thing…this entire scenario, is playing out inside your silly little mind. Those words left my mouth, but I wasn’t the one who composed them. That, my dear, was your doing.”

Trixie’s mind works overtime to try to follow Michelle’s comment.

“Soooooo, I…made you say that?” Trixie asks, unsure if she’s actually following the right road of thought.

“Yes.” Michelle says, smiling. “This entire scenario was, and still is being, created by your mind. We are inside your head. We are inside your-...”

“...dream.” Trixie and Michelle finish together. “There you go!”

Trixie nods in understanding.

“Okay…but why?” Trixie asks, confused.

“Why what?”

“Why…am I having a dream about you? I’ve never even met you before.”

“But you’re about to.” Michelle explains, “You and I are scheduled to fight each other on Meltdown in a few days time, so naturally, I am at the forefront of your mind.”

Trixie nods, remembering the moment she found out that she was scheduled to fight Michelle von Horrowitz. It took Bret seven hours to explain to Trixie just who Michelle von Horrowitz was, who the Nephews were, and the look of fear in her brother’s eyes as he explained just how good Michelle is inside the ring, well, that look stayed with Trixie.

“So, you’re not the real Michelle?” Trixie asks, slowly putting the pieces together.

“No.” Michelle says bluntly. “I’m just a figment of your imagination.”

“And I can make you say whatever I want?”

“Correct.” Michelle nods.

A mischievous smile forms on Trixie’s pretty face, before trying to think of something for Michelle to say.

“My name is Michelle von Horrowitz, and I’m a massive poopy-head.” Michelle says with a smile, seemingly unfazed.

Trixie giggles childishly, before having another go.

“I like to pick my nose and eat it.” Michelle admits.

Trixie claps her hands excitedly, laughing all the while.

“This is SO COOL!” Trixie exclaims joyfully. “What else should I make you say…OOO! OOO! I kn-”

“Trixie, you’re distracting yourself from why you really brought us here…”

Trixie’s joyful expression quickly dissipates

“But, I dunno why-”

“Yes, you do.” Michelle interjects. “Think. You’ve been trying to convince yourself of something ever since you got here.”

“I-I dun-...I dunno whatchu mean…” Trixie says, mentally struggling with herself.

“Yes, you do! I know you do!” Michelle says, frustrated. “You know you do! Stop being such a SCAREDY CAT!”

Trixie’s eyes widen, as built up rage and frustration floods to the surface.

“I’M NOT A SCAREDY CAT!” Trixie exclaims defiantly.

“No? Well, if you ain’t a scaredy cat, then WHAT THE HECK ARE YOU-”

“I’M NOT GOOD ENOUGH!” Trixie yells at the top of her lungs, before releasing a thunderous bellow of frustration. “Is that whatchu wanna here? HUH!? I’M NOT GOOD ENOUGH!”

Her emotions having reached a boiling point, Trixie picks up the chair she was sitting on up and throws it clean across the room in a tantrum.

“Yup, just let it all out…” Michelle says, waiting patiently for Trixie to calm down.

Trixie throws a vicious “This is Sparta” kick towards Michelle, but she bounces off the force field.

“GRRRRRRR!” Trixie growls in frustration at being unable to attack Michelle, before trying a second time, and a third.

Unable to take out her frustrations on Michelle, Trixie’s rage escapes her in a furious, and thunderous scream…

“AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!”

…before dropping to her hands and knees, with frustrated tears filling her eyes, sulking.

“Better now?” Michelle asks, nonchalantly.

Trixie ignores Michelle, trying to catch her breath, and snivelling all the while.

“Trixie, listen to me. I know you're scared. You’ve had your struggles since you signed for the FWA, and you’ve taken your fair share of ass kickings…” Michelle admits, “and truth be told, the odds of you beating me at Meltdown are slim, but it’s not impossible…look at me.”

After a moment to collect herself, Trixie lifts herself up to a kneeling position and wipes the tears from her eyes, before looking up at her “opponent” at Meltdown, her hands shaking, evidently still holding on to a lot of her anger and frustration.

“The person standing before you is NOT a god. The person standing before you is NOT invincible. Michelle von Horrowitz can be hurt. Michelle von Horrowitz can be made to bleed…Michelle von Horrowitz CAN. BE. BEAT.”

Staring up at the carbon copy of Michelle von Horrowitz, as she tries to convince Trixie that she has a chance, Trixie slowly, but surely, climbs to her feet.

“It won’t be easy. She will hurt you, and hurt you, and keep hurting you mercilessly until you are down for the count. You will NOT stay down for that count.”

Trixie glares at Michelle as she instructs Trixie on her path to victory.

“She will try to rip your limbs off, laughing as you scream in agony, trying to make you quit. You will NOT quit.”

”I will not submit.” Trixie thinks to herself, her face full of fire and determination.

“You will outlast her. You will out-tough her. You cannot out-wrestle her…but you CAN out FIGHT her.”

Trixie’s eyes lock onto Michelle’s, and in that moment, the force field separating them disappears. Without hesitation, Trixie charges at Michelle and lobs a ferocious right hand at her…

…and as the punch lands square in Michelle’s face, “MvH”, the brig, and everything in it disappears.

The last image we see is Bellatrix Bordeaux sitting upright on her couch, in her apartment, with the ending credits to Star Trek The Next Generation playing on her TV screen…

Star Trek TNG Ending Credits

and the sound of her brother snoring, sound asleep on the other side of the couch.

THE END​
 

Jimmy King

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Back in Business XIII on July 15th, 2018.

That was the last time I faced Danny Toner one on one. I walked out of that match the winner, but I didn’t feel like a winner. I don’t feel like a winner right now in my current state. I won over XYZ on Fallout, but then that bastard Death Walker and his gimp decided to beat me. All of that is to send a message to XYZ, and he doesn’t do a damn thing about it. He sat there while I got the hell beat out of me.


I’m still standing. I’m still breathing.

You may not be able to see me now but believe me when I tell you I’m still here. You can’t see me because this is another one of those journal posts that Uncle insisted I do. No bounty hunting this time, either. Just me and this journal.

Maybe because I got my shit rocked by Death Walker, but I can’t think of what I want to say about Danny Toner that many others haven’t already told before me. I know that the Danny Toner I’ll be squaring off with on Fallout in Guadalajara is much different from the Danny Toner I faced almost five years ago to the date at Back in Business.

Danny from back then wasn’t as focused as he is now. He wasn’t as calculating. He wasn’t as ruthless. He’s still the same vulgar Danny Toner, but now he has the volume turned to the max with no intent of turning it down. He still has a sharp tongue and a way with words. That much hasn’t changed. Since then, he’s also held multiple championships, including the world championship. He rose through the ranks and has made himself a household name. He’s solidified himself as one of the absolute best in this business, and he’s a bonafide main event player and a future Hall of Famer.

As for me, well, there’s not much you can say about me since that time. I haven’t held any gold to speak of in the last five years. I watched my girlfriend get her head caved in by a deranged lunatic, a man that Danny Toner called a friend. I got my skull nearly caved in by this man, and this man almost blinded me. I had to take some time away, and I came back, and I’m still overlooked. I’m still not seen as a star. I’m not a household name. You won’t see my bloodied face gracing magazine covers or posters for the upcoming PPVs.

Maybe I have myself to blame for all of this. Perhaps it’s my fault that I haven’t reached my full potential even though I’ve tried so hard repeatedly, but I still find new ways to come up short. I tried being different. I tried being someone that’s tired of being walked on, and what did that get me? An ass beating from the second coming of Satan. I went to war with a fellow Deathmatch legend and had years taken off my life.

I’m still here, though. I’m still standing. I’m still breathing.

I know you’re likely to beat me, Danny. That’s okay. I’ve accepted my fate. I know you have bigger fish to fry with your old friend Ryan Rondo making his grand return. You’ll probably look past me, and I wouldn’t blame you. I’ll use that to my advantage.

My fate might be sealed, but that doesn’t mean I won’t try to change the future. I will do again what so many people haven’t been able to do.

Beat Danny Fuckin’ Toner.

As for Death Walker and XYZ. Don’t think I’ve forgotten about you two. I’ll be watching your match at Meltdown very closely.


It would help if you had killed me when you had the chance. Now it’s too late.
 
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Bobby Barrows

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volume one hundred and thirteen.
"stroopwaffel blues (ii)."



Michelle sat in a (mostly) drab, sterile waiting room, looking up at the white flowers and gnarled branches of Almond Blossom. Déjà vu descended upon her. It was a different waiting room, albeit a similar one, but the painting and the feeling were both the same. She’d told Uncle about that dream, and many others like it, and a few days later a copy of Vincent’s finest work appeared in the waiting room of the Octopi’s medical bay. She knew it must have been a copy since one of the Nephew E-Squads had visited the Van Gogh museum to cover the original in potato and leek soup.
Her stomach rumbled at the thought of soup. How long had it been since she’d last eaten? Last slept? These questions must have had answers but they were beyond her. Her days had been a blur since…
No. She corrected herself. Corrected the trajectory of her train of thought. Her mind was deteriorating, she knew: hobbled by defeat, by abject failure, by…
No. Think of nothing. Think of nothing. Think of --
She had made a promise to herself that she wouldn’t think about Peacock and Black until her business with the kaiju was through. It was becoming increasingly clear that this was a promise she would struggle to keep. She knew that, eventually, her addled, traitorous mind would betray her again and let them in. Much more than that, actually: they would become her everything. All roads would lead to that destination.
In her career, there had been four great obsessions: the prodigy, the old-timer, the mountain, and the sea. Three of these manias she had, in some regard, laid to rest. Only the mountain now remained. Black and Peacock were on the other side of it, and to reach them she would have to travel around, or over, or through.
The last time she’d stared at this painting, or her subconcious’s rendering of this painting, she was surrounded by those that - at the time - she most considered her peers beneath the big tent. Her comrades in the clown clan, with their only attribute in common their ownership of a belt she once considered a sign of… well, of something. She imagined how that same waiting room, filled with world champions that she’d shared the stage with, would look today. The four men passing the time idly before their return to the spotlight would be joined by an army of others, the locked door replaced by a revolving one. That waiting room didn’t exist but the idea of it made her feel claustrophobic. Memories tugged relentlessly at the corners of her mind.
In the real world, which is a strange turn of phrase to describe a spaceship that is at best world-adjacent, the waiting room outside the Octopi’s medical bay was far from overcrowded. Only one other soul occupied the plethora of hot pink seating: Betelgeuse Toulouse sat upon an L-shaped couch beneath a large aquarium housing Kobudai fish, flicking through last month’s edition of Nephews Monthly.
The fact that she was on the cover of said issue only highlighted the drastic changes that the young woman had undergone since her conscription to the Nephews. She may have triumphed in the armageddon game, saving an oblivious Earth (for better or for worse) in the process, but it had come at a great personal cost. She only had one of her original limbs remaining: her left leg, which happened to be her least favourite of the four when she’d possessed them all (both in terms of aesthetics and functionality). Speaking of the latter, she hadn’t yet been able to fully master the animatronic replacements that Uncle and Quiet had fashioned her, which the COSMIC HORROR blamed on the masked woman’s missing uniform, since the losing of which she hadn’t quite been herself. The missing limbs were just the start of it: a metal brace lengthened her neck by a scale factor of three, heavy bandages held the remnants of her ribs together, and both of her eyes were blackened. Her opponent in the armageddon game was a Yundheim, and everyone knows that Yundheim are sore losers.
In this moment of pugilistic poor sportsmanship, Betelgeuse’s exterior projections had peeled away, the facade of humanity torn with it. She’d turned back into her true, bahruzhi self, right about the time that the Yundheim ripped the first arm off. Uncle explained that it was difficult to maintain a mirroring spell under such extreme levels of stress.
"Do you not get tired?" Michelle asked.
"Tired of what?" replied Betelgeuse. Her voice suggested that she was exhausted.
"Pretending to be something else all the time," Michelle answered. She couldn’t help but wonder why the eyes of the woman’s human projection were blackened when bahruzhi didn’t have eyes.
"You get used to it," Betelgeuse said, with as much of a shrug as her missing body pieces would allow.
At that moment, the door to the medical bay opened. Harry the Sane Wizard emerged through it, wearing a long, white lab coat and holding a clipboard. He stared down at the notes it contained, tapping intermittently on the board with his pencil in an affectation of careful consideration. Eventually, with a smile that just screamed bedside manner, he looked up at his two prospective patients.
"Okay, who’s first?" Harry asked.
"I’m first," Michelle said.
"Okay."
"Well, actually," Betelgeuse started, with elongated hesitations between (and even within) words, her tone dripping with trepidation. "I’m sort of in a considerable amount of pain…"
"Won’t be long, Betelgeuse," the doctor began. He was already leading Dreamer towards the consultation room. "You’re stronger than you think. Just be patient. Get it?! Patient!"
The young wizard closed the door behind Michelle and took a seat on the edge of the desk. He motioned at a purple bean bag with his animatronic hand whilst consulting his notes. Michelle elected to stand.
"Here for your check up after your last match?" he asked. He was avoiding eye contact, as well as direct statements about the specifics of that last match. Michelle tore herself away from an involuntary mental tangent. Not yet…
"No, I feel fine physically," she said. It was a partial truth. She felt no worse than she had done in years, as far as the collection of aches and bruises she called a body went.
"And what about not physically?" Harry asked. "How are you feeling mentally?"
"You know," Michelle said, evasively. "So-so. It comes in waves, I guess."
Harry set the clipboard down on his desk and picked up his coffee.
"Did you take that online self-diagnosis quiz I sent you?"
"Should you be drinking that? How old are you now, anyway?"
"I asked you a question," the doctor said, with his eyebrows raised in admonishment.
"I’m acutely aware that you asked me a question," she answered without really answering. "You’ve asked a series of them, actually. This feels more like an interrogation than a consultation."
"Diagnosis isn’t the enemy."
"More drugs isn’t the answer."
"Not more drugs," Harry sighed. "Just different ones."
"I’m happy with the ones I have."
Harry shook his head and changed tact.
"Will you at least see the new therapist Uncle recruited?"
"We finally got a new one?"
"Took a while, given the bad name the last one gave us with the Union of Third Quadrant Therapists," Harry explained. "The UTQT holds sway. Fortunately, Uncle helped their General Secretary bust some horns and break some claws on the picket lines over on Hellex Gamma 8 last weekend. I think they bonded. We’re back in."
Michelle thought about the prospect. She’d engaged in such processes before, with varying degrees of success, and wasn’t entirely against the idea of talking to a professional. Right now, though? Letting someone inside this mess seemed like an admission of guilt; of how much this all meant to her despite the idea of herself that she presented to the world. She didn’t think she could deal with the shame.
"Okay," she agreed. "But not yet. After Snowmantashi."
"Of course after Snowmantashi," Harry said. "You think I’d arrange for you to do something as banal as seeing a therapist this close to Back in Business? Uncle would have my guts for garters. Speaking of which, he wants to see you. All of us, actually. In the bridge. We can go together, if you’re ready?"
"What about the bahruzhi in the waiting room?"
"Tomorrow," Harry shrugged. "I’ve done my ten hours today. Junior Junior Doctor’s Union guidelines. Did you need anything else? Any prescriptions?"
"That sleeping draught you made me last year after that thing with Thomas," Michelle answered, immediately. It had been the entire reason she’d made the appointment. She began to question whether it was worth the hassle. Perhaps insomnia wasn’t so bad. "Been having trouble again."
"I’ll brew a crate and have it brought up to your quarters," Harry said, whilst making a note on her chart. "Just don’t operate any heavy machinery. Or fly anything faster than an Octo-Pod. Or play 5D Go. Or get pregnant."
"Good advice."
Harry led the way to the bridge, pushing Betelgeuse along in her wheelchair and followed by a skulking Dreamer, who shuffled down the Octopi’s corridors with her hands stuffed firmly in her pockets. The sliding doors slid open, as sliding doors often do, revealing the familiar picture of a bridge crammed with a veritable host of Nephews. Sixteen of them by Michelle’s count, now that Harry, Betelgeuse and she had joined the pre-conflab-ulating thirteen.
"Ah, more Nephews!" Uncle bellowed, with his arms spread wide, as the trio took up varying positions around the room. Harry began to watch Quiet’s monitor over her shoulder at the communications hub, Betelgeuse sat awkwardly near the door, and Michelle positioned herself next to Gerald on a long, pink couch beneath the Octopi’s front window. "Glad that you could join us. I was feeling quite unlucky, given our unfortunate numbering. Where’ve you been all day?"
"Harry’s surgery," Michelle said, absently. "Tennis elbow."
"Yes! The witch doctor has come quite a long way since he set up his practice."
"Shouldn’t that be wizard doctor?" Bill Scorpane asked, somewhat dismissively and inbetween sucks on the end of a beer bottle.
"Sane wizard doctor," Harry said, holding up an illustrative, animatronic finger. "Though I’ll answer to sane witch too."
"I don’t think the sane qualifier is really necessary," Thomas interjected.
"I thought it would reassure people," Harry explained.
"Who are you trying to reassure?" the Maid enquired.
"My patients, obviously," Harry answered.
"We’re your only patients, Harry," Thomas added.
"And reassured ones we are!" Uncle exclaimed, so as to reassure the reassurer.
",’, ,,,,, ,,, ,,,,, ,,,,,,, ,,,,,,," Quiet said. ",,,,,,, ,,, ,,,,,,’, ,,,, ,,,,,,,."
"Some things, as I’ve already told you, are beyond even the most sophisticated Earth medicines," Uncle replied. Harry shuffled uncomfortably, recalling JAY!’s instructions to refrain from the use of magic in his medical practice. "You’ll be your old self again in no time at all! Just as soon as the bahruzhi is here, we’ll get you on your way."
"Um, the bahruzhi?" Betelgeuse said, nervously. "Is that me?"
"Ah, Betelgeuse!" Uncle declared, both surprised and pleased by the interruption. "Almost forgot you were here! But good that you are: I’ve an excellent side-adventure opportunity for you. Third Quadrant Chess Championships. They’re playing Two-Dimensional Blitz this decade. Your favourite!"
"What purpose could we possibly have to enter a chess tournament?" the Maid asked, with a cocked eyebrow.
"What purpose do we have to do anything?" Uncle asked, in return.
"Very philosophical," the Maid replied, nonplussed. "But the point remains."
"Well, titles can be important," Harry said.
"As long as they aren’t loser titles," chided Thomas.
"There’s also prestige to consider," Uncle considered. "And dear Betelgeuse’s development. She’s still very much a Nephew in Training, and time out in the field in a familiar context will be good experience for her."
Betelgeuse, still seated in her wheelchair near the entrance, gulped at the concept of becoming a fully-fledged Nephew. The training was quite enough.
"I think, in all honesty, I might struggle to move the pieces right now," Betelgeuse said, whilst glancing down at her useless animatronic appendages.
"That’s why someone will go with you!" Uncle beamed. "One of the many benefits of being a Nephew! We stick together, Toulouse. Quiet has business on Takk, where the tournament will be held. But she won’t be around to caddy for you."
",,,, ,,,,,,, ,,,,, ,,,,,, ,,,,,," Quiet added. Uncle nodded approvingly.
"But you're quite right," Uncle went on. "Someone will have to accompany you and make your moves. Sounds like the perfect task for…"
Michelle listened absently, vaguely wondering which E- or maybe even F-Squad member JAY! would choose for this menial task. If she had to make a list of predictions from most likely to least, she would have placed herself at the very end of it, if at all. But… well, you - my astute reader - probably guessed it.
"... Dreamer!"
A pause. Enough for a few indignant and emotive blinks.
"Why me?" Michelle asked. The question drew a smile from Uncle.
"You don’t know who your next opponent is?!" he said. He looked around himself at whichever Nephews would return his eye contact, aghast and exasperated. "She doesn’t know who her next opponent is! SS_10K, show Dreamer the Meltdown card!"

***

"I can't believe that you're making me drive," Michelle said, from behind the controls of a mid-distance liner. Betelgeuse sat next to her whilst Quiet slept soundly in the backseat. "I'm currently being prescribed a powerful sleeping draught, and my doctor told me I shouldn't pilot a ship."
"I… don't know how to fly a spaceship," was Betelgeuse's response.
"And you think I do?" answered Michelle. "I don't even know how to drive a car."
"What?!" Betelgeuse exclaimed, her tone dripping with panic and fear. "You don't know how to fly this?! Maybe we should wake up Quiet. Does she know how to fly a spaceship? I don't want to die out here, where nobody can hear me scream! I like people to hear my screams!"
"Relax, it's on autopilot," Michelle interrupted. The other woman's countenance turned to confusion and then relief. "Lighten up."
The ship continued for a time with the pair in silence, the only audible accompaniment Quiet's gentle snoring in the long seat behind them. Michelle had never known the masked one to snore and assumed the feature must have come with the new host. She glanced in the rear wing mirror, first at Quiet's drastically different body and the unfamiliar hot pink trench coat she used as a blanket, and then at the young, anxious girl sitting next to her. Betelgeuse's own eyes were flitting back and forth between the endless black of space through the domed window and a (hitherto unnoticed) small, black, leather-bound book positioned between her animatronic leg and her fleshy one.
"What's that?" Michelle asked.
"What's what?!" Betelgeuse replied, with renewed fear. She began to peer through the window, straining her eyes for any signs of threat in the distance. Michelle allowed the silence to linger, perversely enjoying the bahruzhi woman’s heightened anxiety.
"The book," Michelle clarified. "On your lap."
"Oh," Betelgeuse said, returning to her only vaguely disconcerted general state of being. "It’s my diary. It used to be my Aunt’s. I write letters to her in it. She’s been dead for ten years now, but it gives me solace. I don’t know if you can understand that?"
"I can’t," Michelle lied. She didn’t ask any more questions.
They arrived at the Zevylkonia Processing Centre on the outskirts of the capital’s sports district at a little after midday, local time, and found that the mood in this corner of Takk was generally rather dreary. Uncle and, somewhat surprisingly, Gerald had briefed her about the horticulturist’s festival, Flora-Fest 862, that had gone down on the moon during the last pass of Porodus. A swathe of assassinations and political manoeuvrings had led to revolution, but it seemed the new government was struggling with maintaining what could best be described as quality of life. Michelle was surprised that it had been chosen to host an intergalactic chess tournament. Perhaps it was designed to raise spirits.
Hers dipped lower when she saw the queues for registration. She shook her head and sighed as she wheeled Betelgeuse to the back of it, where she stood impatiently with her arms folded. Quiet had already disappeared on her own errands. They queued in perfect silence, with Dreamer frequently forgetting to push Belteguese forward when the line moved up in front of them.
"You’re entering the tournament?" the receptionist - a short, slender being with stone-like skin and more than a little Medusa about her, which made the stone-like skin somewhat ironic - asked from behind her long, low desk. "I know that you guys invented this game, but we don’t usually get many humans actually entering. Even after Earth turned Mark Four. Not that there’s a rule about it, it’s just… well, biology is biology."
"Not me," Michelle answered, finding herself in agreement with the receptionist’s appraisal of humanity. She turned around to point at Betelgeuse, who was still half a dozen metres behind her. The rest of the prospective sign-ups waited patiently behind her with impatient scowls on their faces (or face-like planes). "She’s entering."
"Then you had better go and fetch her," the receptionist instructed. "I need her fingerprints."
"She doesn’t have fingers," Michelle responded.
"Well, I have to print something," the receptionist said. "Tournament policy."
After wheeling Betelgeuse up to the desk and overseeing the printing of the remaining toes on her left foot, the pair continued - maintaining their stony silence - into a holding pen that had been set up for the tournament’s competitors. Betelgeuse muttered something about positioning her chair in a quiet corner of the room so that she could mentally prepare herself, but Dreamer instead took her to the bar. Perhaps she hadn’t heard her, owing to the general din in the room, which was a rather distracting hotchpotch of limbs, tentacles, wings, and other unnamable (using Earth lexicons) appendages, or maybe Dreamer simply wanted a drink. Either way, Betelgeuse was soon forgotten about once more whilst Michelle helped herself to a second and then a third whiskey (or approximation thereof).
That is forgotten about by her accompaniment. There was a being, currently lurking in the shadows on the opposite side of the hall, who remembered Betelgeuse Toulouse clearly. This tall, thickset, brooding Yundheim blew a large, orange bubble with his groppos fruit gum and watched her reproachfully for a while. When he judged her docility a permanent affair, he slowly crept across the room and loomed above her, a smirk upon his lips.
"Betelgeuse," came the Yundheim’s rasping, low-pitched voice. "Nice to see you here, and in one piece. Although, I guess that’s only the case because they threw away the parts you lost and added some new ones."
"Rulf," was Betelgeuse’s reply. Her eyes narrowed and the nervous quiver in her voice intensified. This heightened anxiety was explained by her last meeting with the burly Yundheim. He had been her opponent in the armageddon game that was her first engagement for Uncle and the Nephews. Usually, an armageddon game in chess awards victory to black in case of a draw, thus ensuring a winner, but - predictably, to those (like you and I) that are aware of Uncle, the Nephews (continuation of the moniker Cthulhu’s still in question), and their exploits - the armageddon game that the COSMIC HORROR signed her up for had an altogether different dimension, as most things involving the group did. The term was used rather literally, with each player representing a planet: Rulf the Yundheim his home moon in the Burudheim System and Betelgeuse her adopted home of Earth in the Silver River Galaxy. The loser’s celestial body was to be destroyed to make room for an interstellar highway. Very few on Earth knew how close they were to disintegration, given the local (in a cosmic sense) council’s attempts to push the planning permission application through quietly. Betelgeuse had won the match, but Rulf triumphed in the ensuing brawl. But you’re already aware of that, given Toulouse’s physical state. "I’m surprised to see you alone."
"Don’t worry: my friends are here, too," Rulf the Yundheim answered, referring to the smuggling band colloquially known as Unnecessary Evil, of which he was a member. Wherever the hulking chess grand master went, his cronies were close behind. One of them had even tried to conjure a tornado on the board during their armageddon game. "Not allowed in the hall. Competitors only. Surprised to find one of your human friends here. She can’t be competing? Is she here to move the pieces for you whilst your arms grow back?"
Betelgeuse said nothing. Rulf was a little too close to the truth of it for her liking. The Yundheim gave a cackle, relishing the bahruzhi woman’s discomfort. Michelle watched the scene unfold whilst leaning on the bar and drinking her fourth whiskey. She shook her head at the developmental Nephew’s meek conversational surrender. There was no pity in her eyes. It was only disdain.
"I guess I’ll see you at the board," Rulf went on, when he was done laughing at the other’s ongoing disquiet. "And I will see you. I intend on making sure of it."
With that, her large and recently-gained nemesis marched back across the hall. Betelgeuse watched him head directly for the tournament organisers, who he began to engage in warm and congenial discussions. She narrowed her eyes accusingly when the Yundheim pointed across the room at her.
"You think he’s trying to rig the draw?" she asked Michelle. Dreamer had turned back away from her, applying her full focus to the freshly poured fifth whiskey in front of her. "To make sure he faces me?"
"I don’t give a fuck," Michelle answered, curtly. "I hope you lose."
Betelgeuse sighed a sigh of simmering frustration and futile sadness. She appreciated her paranoia being validated half an hour later, when the draw was announced with Rulf and her facing off in the first round. This was short-lived, though, when she thought more about the impending meeting with the man who - along with his jackal-ish friends - was responsible for seventy five percent of her limbs being lost in space. Unless you counted her new, animatronic ones. Then it was around fifty seven percent, which is four out of seven. Either way, the proportion was concerning.
"Will you look after me out there?" Betelgeuse asked, as Michelle wheeled her out into the theatre of combat. The Yundheim was already waiting at the board. "Nephew solidarity, and all that."
"You’re a Nephew in Training," Michelle corrected. "I’m just here to move the pieces."
Betelgeuse gulped down her unease as Michelle positioned her at the corner of the table. Dreamer herself occupied the elaborate, throne-like chair that was meant for the competitor.
"Two on one, is it?" Rulf asked, still wearing his condescending smirk. "It’s a shame you didn’t have such help back at the armageddon game."
"You might remember that I won that game," Betelgeuse quipped in return. She was emboldened by the chess pieces in front of her, finding they returned some of her old confidence. Before…
"Yes," the Yundheim allowed. "But I still have all of my arms."
"Always with the arms," she answered, as a beep heralded the beginning of her opponent’s timer. The Yundheim moved his first white pawn, shaping up for a London opening, the clock pausing with a click and signalling Betelgeuse’s turn. "Knight to f6."
"You’re right," Rulf replied, whilst stroking his chin. Michelle begrudgingly moved Betelgeuse’s piece, noticing that the bahruzhi’s timer didn’t stop until she’d completed the action. "I took a leg, too. More jokes about the leg."
Toulouse shrugged him off and watched his bishop career across the board, coming to rest at d3.
"Pawn to f6," Betelgeuse instructed. Michelle obliged a few seconds later, eating up time that the bahruzhi woman didn’t seem to think valuable. She was confident, Michelle thought. Maybe this was where she felt most comfortable. It certainly wasn’t aboard the Octopi, surrounded by her new friends.
"Ah, that trusty fianchetto," Rulf replied, whilst fondling the white knight currently occupying g1. "You’re a predictable beast. Probably that bahruzhi blood you’re trying so hard to hide. Nobody’s buying that human camo, dear."
"Many bahruzhi are actually risk-takers," Betelgeuse said, as her opponent moved his knight forward alongside his pawn and bishop. "That’s a stereotype, Rulf. You’re better than that. I think? Bishop to g7."
"I’m merely suggesting that you should’ve transferred your chess philosophy to our scuffle after the armageddon game," Rulf said. Dreamer moved Toulouse’s sleeping dragon into position. "Throw a guard up, why don’t you?! Although, I guess that isn’t really an option now?"
"You’re making fun of someone who lost their limbs," Betelgeuse said. Rulf let out a guttural laugh at his opponent’s appeal for sympathy before bringing out his second knight. "Whose limbs you ripped off. Don’t be a bully. Pawn to c5."
"I have to get into your head, don’t I?" Rulf replied, whilst watching Dreamer’s slow pace approvingly. "There aren’t many other body parts left."
"Well, I’ve still got a leg," she said. The Yundheim continued to develop his knights. "I guess it doesn’t matter if you take that one too, once I beat you a second time. Short rook."
"That was then," Michelle interjected. Both players removed their focus from the game, even as Dreamer swapped the position of Betelgeuse’s king and castle, as per her instructions. "This is now."
"Excuse me?" the bahruzhi asked.
"You’re living in the past," Michelle explained. The bahruzhi got the sense that something had been stirred in her human escort, whose role was to move pieces and not to lambast one of the players. "Dwelling on it. You won’t beat him that way."
"Ironic," Betelgeuse said. Michelle cocked an eyebrow, almost in curiosity. She had been enjoying the sudden, stark increase in the bahruzhi woman’s confidence. But Dreamer had her limits.
"How so?"
"This thing with that monster," Toulouse answered. Rulf was weighing up a move with his white-square bishop, which he completed as his opponent continued in her distraction. "Snowman-whatever it is? It’s not dwelling: you’re consumed by it! I’ve seen you watching those old videos for hours. I know what this Mexico City showdown means to you, despite what you’re trying to convey to all of us. Lies, all of it! And you talk to me about the past?"
Michelle’s eyebrow was no longer cocked. Any amusement she had in Betelgeuse’s chess-induced confidence had long disappeared. Now, she regarded the bahruzhi grand master with folded arms and a stern glare.
Betelgeuse Toulouse buckled under the weight of it and turned back to the board.
"Queen to d5, and check," she said, whilst massaging her temples. She glanced up at her clock as it ticked down beneath ninety seconds, and then to Dreamer, who continued to gaze into her with ice-cold eyes.
Nervously, she offered the Yundheim an apologetic expression. It seemed that Betelgeuse intended to be resoundingly polite, even to the man who made her into whatever it was now. Finally, after completing this pathetic and pitiable display of subjugation, she sheepishly repeated her command.
"Queen to d5, and check."
The piece remained unmoved, her timer ticking below one minute.
"Will you move it for me?" Betelgeuse asked, of her Yundheim nemesis. At first, he only scoffed, but when he realised she was being serious he shook his head.
"Against regulations, even if I wanted to," he said. "And I don’t want to, by the way. This is my year! I’ll take my wins whatever way they come. Let this be a lesson for you to learn, even in untimely defeat."
"What lesson could I possibly learn from all this?" she asked. She meant to motion with her arms to symbolise that ‘all this’ meant the ridiculous situation she found herself in. Her animatronic limbs vibrated and shuffled slightly, but nothing more than that. Progress, at least.
"That, if you don’t have arms, you’re going to at least need some friends," the Yundheim advised. "And good ones. Not ones who’ll fuck you up just as bad as your enemies."
"That’s an oddly specific lesson," Betelgeuse said.
"Not if you have no arms to begin with," Rulf said, with a shrug. His smirk returned as Betelgeuse’s clock ticked down to zero, timing her out and handing victory to her opponent.
After the brief and silent walk through the Zevylkonian city streets, Michelle happily smoked three cigarettes by the ship whilst they awaited Quiet’s return. She remained oblivious, probably intentionally so, to the scornful gazes that Betelgeuse frequently threw in her general direction. The masked woman arrived as Dreamer lit a fourth Camel, a canvas satchel thrown haphazardly over her shoulder.
"What’s in the bag?" Michelle asked. Quiet threw it down in front of Dreamer and Betelgeuse and used her gloved hands to untie the rope around its neck. The pair looked inside, Toulouse almost emptying her stomach upon gazing on the severed heads of a rhoyvull, an untei'’ri, and a dworl. Quiet wrapped the bag up again and threw it into the ship’s cargo hold. "Productive afternoon."
",,, ,, ,,,, ,, ,’, ,,,,,," Quiet replied. She climbed into the driver’s seat, entering a sequence to activate autopilot and take them back to the Octopi. Michelle stubbed out her cigarette, retrieved a vape from her tracksuit jacket pocket, and puffed happily on the end of it whilst reclining in the backseat.
They were half-way home when they realised Betelgeuse was still in the parking lot on Takk. They begrudgingly went back for her after a lengthy and heated debate.

***

"Ah, the wanderers return!" Uncle declared, as the bridge’s doors slid open and Michelle and Quiet walked through them, the masked woman pushing Betelgeuse’s wheelchair. "And as conquerors, I hope!"
"Not quite," Michelle said, unaware that Uncle and the rest of the Nephews had watched the whole episode unfold on one of the bridge’s monitors. "Quiet did well for herself, but our chess prodigy here got herself beaten in the first round."
"Got… myself… beaten?!" Betelgeuse asked, stumbling through the sentence. It was hard to determine whether this was through anxiety or rage. Maybe both.
"Yes," Michelle replied, matter-of-factly. "In the very first round. Quite embarrassing, considering we went all that way. I had better things to do, honestly."
"But…" the bahruzhi replied, whilst scrunching her face into an infinitely ugly expression of overwhelming frustration. "It was YOUR fault!"
Perhaps because of the pressure of holding in her most ferocious emotions for quite a long time, the word ‘your’ roared out of her lips as if she were a lion. Her timidity soon returned to her when Dreamer’s cold glare found her again, just like it had at the board on Takk.
"My fault?" Michelle returned, in a tone overflowing with vile indignation. Trixie flinched before it, and continued to cower as Dreamer continued to speak. "I know that you’re aware of my forthcoming engagements, tulip, given that you dared speak of them back at the scene of your humiliating defeat. And I am sent to waste my time with you, when there are a million other things I could be doing to prepare for the monster, whose name you aren’t worthy of hearing, let alone speaking!"
As the bahruzhi quivered and Dreamer grew in size, Harry the Sane Wizard leant in closer to Uncle.
"Shouldn’t we stop this?" he whispered.
"No! This is the thematic conclusion!" Uncle returned. He was attempting a whisper too, but his propensity for bombast barely allowed it.
"How can a Nephew berating an NiT be a satisfying thematic conclusion?" the young wizard asked.
"Because she’s not really berating Betelgeuse, of course!" Uncle answered. His tentacles bristled over his growing, glowing smile. "You’ll see, Harry. Just watch."
Across the bridge, in the middle of a horseshoe of Nephews, Michelle’s shadow swallowed Betelgeuse whole.
"You’re a bumbling mess when you’re on your own, little one," she continued. "But at least you had all of your limbs, frail though they were, before you stepped aboard this ship. You’re not cut out for this life: you weren’t strong enough physically before you accrued your war-wounds, and you certainly aren’t strong enough mentally. You will never accomplish anything alone, and you know that, too. Too weak. An uneasy alliance, any uneasy alliance, is what you needed to grab a foothold. Because you’ve been losing your grip on the world, haven’t you? That’s what all this is about, really. Your diary and your adventures and your new, strange friends…"
"Oh, I get it!" Harry whispered excitedly to the rest of the Greek Chorus. "She’s talking about Trixie and the Coven!"
"Very good, Nephew!" Uncle declared. He stopped short of patting the young wizard on the head. This was implied by his encouraging tone.
"More than that, I think," Thomas added, from Uncle’s other shoulder. "She’s referring in a wider sense to Trixie’s tag team undefeated streak, which probably prompted her decision to shack up with some weirdo witches."
"Hey!" Harry said. "Stereotypes!"
"Not all witches are weirdos," Thomas allowed. "But those Ravenwoods don’t have a level footing. At least not in this reality. Anyway, it’s about Trixie not cutting the mustard alone and relying on others to drag her over the line."
"I agree, Thomas," Uncle said, whilst stroking his tentacles thoughtfully. "And in addressing Betelgeuse’s shortcomings when help was removed from her, she highlights Trixie’s ineffectual performances in singles competition. And these are the terms, Michelle’s terms, that they will meet on when we get back to Earth."
"And I think, more generally," Harry began, squinting and grimacing in an affectation of deep thought. "The wheelchair in general plays into Trixie being pushed along to almost all of her victories. Doubt Michelle failed to notice that."
"Should our analysis really be this on the nose?" Thomas pondered. "Perhaps we ought to leave something up to the reader."
"Given the current climate, Nephew?! No chance!"
"I’m using a lot of words, but it’s really quite simple," Dreamer went on, ignoring the muttering Nephews surrounding her and the target of her monologue. Her tone levelled out as she reached her climax. "You don’t belong here. Not on this ship. Not with us."
The girl began to cry. Michelle only laughed.
"Go home, Trixie," she said. "Just go home."
With that, Dreamer turned away from the girl and left the bridge. She never saw her again.

***

Gerald stood outside of a door marked with the number 114. None of the other Nephews quite possessed the courage to follow Dreamer to her quarters. Not even Quiet, who had bunked with her for most of the year whenever both were aboard the Octopi. They’d requested a room on the opposite side of the ship, which Uncle lamented was unconducive to slumber parties and other such social frivolities, but acquiesced to his Nephews’ wishes. He was, after all, interested only in their happiness, and so Dreamer and the masked woman (or the masked man, until a few weeks ago) shared this reclusive abode between the central propulsion room and the dungeons.
Hesitant and uncertain, but emboldened by necessity, Gerald Grayson lived up to his Daredevil moniker and knocked on the door.
Inside, Michelle sat on the bottom bunk with a set of headphones around her neck. She’s been struggling to concentrate on a book (any book) and Uncle suggested she try an audiobook, but she found focus even more difficult to come by when listening to someone else’s voice. Perhaps she could ask Thomas to use A.I. to have her own voice read it to her, but who had the time? She could still hear For Whom The Bell Tolls playing despite the headset’s positioning. The reading was interrupted by a familiar knock, the weight of which she recognised.
"Come in, Gerald," Michelle said. He did. He took a seat at the end of the bed in a low rocking chair. The door slid closed behind him. He didn’t say anything for a while. He seemed more intrigued by Quiet’s toys, spread out on the bedside table. She wondered if he knew what they were used for. Eventually, he met her gaze and found that her eyes were sad.
"I can’t work out if you enjoyed that scene," he said. He’d felt certain she had when he was back in the bridge. Why else would she seek it out? But now? Those eyes…
"I don’t imagine that you - of all people - enjoyed it," she replied. In truth, she hadn’t even seen Gerald when her rage had turned on Betelgeuse. But she still felt she could picture his reaction. She contrasted that to the giddy glee she’d observed in Uncle, Thomas, and Harry as she’d left for her quarters. "Not like the rest of them, probably."
"I can’t help thinking it’s all because of me, somehow," Gerald responded. She was confused by the assertion.
"What are you talking about, tulip?" she asked. She didn’t mean to be unkind but heard her own condescension.
"Perhaps you’re doing this to Betelgeuse because, well…" he paused again. Stuttered. Struggled. "You have your own armageddon game on the horizon. And it’s later than you think. That close encounter would explain a lot of this… well, belligerence. Maybe me challenging Snowmantashi made you think about the dynamic between us when we first met. How you used to feel about me, for longer than I’m sure you’d like to admit. Maybe you still do, at least a little."
"This has nothing to do with any of that, Gerald," she said, more softly. "I’m behind you on Fallout, I promise. Whatever happens with Trixie, I’ll be there two days later at your side. If you want me there. It’s just… that Betelgeuse girl is a dolt. I’m done wasting my time on her."
"Maybe," Gerald allowed. Dreamer wasn’t sure what he was referring to, but didn’t push the point. "There are times when I wonder if you thought the same about me, back when we were thrown together."
"Gerald…"
"Just like you were thrown together with Betelgeuse today."
"Please…"
"Do you know what you said to me? When we first spoke?"
Michelle tried to think. She really did. But her brain was scrambled. She came up empty and shook her head.
"Whether you’re right or wrong about that isn’t exactly important to me," Gerald began. The prompt was all she needed. The memory came back to her. As he continued, she pictured herself speaking the words. Pictured the Michelle she’d been three years ago.
"What’s important is the quality of the person sharing my corner. How can I team with you, if I don’t trust you?"
Michelle felt that this memory was asking her this question. Trusting yourself was the hardest thing. The vision from the past receded.
"Well?" he asked.
"Well what?" she replied.
"Do you trust me now?" he asked.
Michelle stared at him with glum eyes. She nodded her head.
Gerald smiled and left the room.
She pulled the headphones over her ears and closed her eyes.
 
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Cyrus Truth

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Exile Chronicles (Volume 5)
Chapter 23: Being Written Off

How did it come to this?

What the hell was the matter with him?

Nursing some bruises in a hostel on the outskirts of Ciudad Juarez, the number one contender for the FWA World Championship and winner of Carnal Contendership looked anything but the part of a title challenger.

Cyrus Truth was…frustrated. Winning Carnal Contendership and securing a proper, one-on-one World Title match at FWA’s biggest event of the year was everything he could’ve asked for and more. It was the best…perhaps last chance he had to return to the top of the mountain.

And yet…Cyrus has found himself struggling much as he had over the past several years since losing the FWA World Title the last time. Sure, he managed to defeat the newcomer Noriko. But since Carnal Contendership, he’s allowed himself to tap out to a man in a rat costume and gave up a sunset flip pin to a Grim Reaper cosplayer.

The loss to Death Walker was all the more frustrating. Cyrus HAD him. He had dropped him with Exile’s Edge and could’ve easily made a cover. Or better yet, he could’ve quickly transitioned and delivered Journey’s End. His finisher, a move that would have certainly put Death Walker away.

But…he hesitated. Because he looked at the commentary table. Expecting the World Champion to be there as he had before.

Chris Peacock was not there

Why wasn’t he?

No…that’s not the right question.

The better question…the only question that should matter.

Why should Cyrus care if he was there or not?

Cyrus, angrily, tosses aside an ice pack. He stands up and puts on a crumpled, cast aside shirt and walks out of the room, down the hall of the hostel to the entrance.

It’s well into the dead of night. The sun would be rising in just a couple of hours. As exhausted as he is, The Exile is not interested in sleep. His thoughts, his anger and frustration wouldn’t let him rest, anyway.

As he walks the streets of Ciudad Juarez, all but alone as most of the citizens have either headed off to their beds or to the company of others, Cyrus Truth was free to walk and wander alone.

This…isn’t supposed to be happening this way.

Losing to weaselperson was humiliating, sure…but Cyrus could, with a great degree of straining, justify that loss. Kazadi was not some random scrub, and when he wasn’t chafing underneath the weight of the massive chip on his shoulder, he could rise to the challenge of being amongst the best in the world.

But Death Walker?

Who the FUCK was Death Walker?

Sure, Cyrus didn’t tap out or succumb to whatever pathetic excuse of a finisher he had, but there was NO reason Cyrus shouldn’t have won against him. And he would have…had Cyrus not been distracted.

No, even that wasn’t the case, was it?

Cyrus LET himself be distracted by absolutely nothing.

That bitter thought torments him as he walks down the sidewalks and back alleys of this foreign city.

Cyrus Truth is supposed to be better than this. Was it really that long ago where the mere thought of The Exile brought about feelings of dread, tension, and respect? Where the Vagabond King ruled the throne and was practically untouchable?

At this point, it felt like an eternity ago.

Something was…wrong. Or was it?

Cyrus, in his wandering, finds himself standing outside a civic park called “Valle de Juarez.” It was completely empty due to it being so late, but that was sort of appealing to The Exile at this time. He strolled in, seeing a nearby swing set looking out towards the street and the rough-looking residences and shops that lined it. Cyrus, almost absentmindedly, heads towards the playground and has a seat on one of the swings.

Pushing aside the anger and humiliation, The Exile just…sits there, looking out to the street and to the starry sky above. Looking back not just at the match he just had and lost…but the last few years.

No…Cyrus was thinking about the entirety of his time in FWA.

There were once dozens of FWA legends and icons that once roamed the backstages of countless arenas and ruled the ring.

And aside from a returning Ryan Rondo? They were all gone.

People came and went from FWA over the years. Some were pegged as the future. Others insisted they were.

So many that were lauded now had faded into dust…footnotes and random side tangents of the greater FWA history.

But ever since Cyrus burst onto the scene by winning Carnal Contendership for the first time? The Exile had remained.

Even as he fell hard from the top of the mountain, and endured years of struggle to regain his footing while free falling? Where so many of Cyrus’s peers would vanish and return to uproarious applause and hype, much as Rondo has? Cyrus persisted.

But persistence apparently matters little and less in the eyes of FWA’s fans and roster.

Even Chris Peacock, his opponent in the main event of Back in Business, had apparently decided that he wasn’t worth thinking about anymore.

After all, why should he? Peacock has been winning major matches since the Carnal Contendership, hasn’t he? And like so many before him as of late, he’s now a double-champion after winning the Tag Team Championships from Horrowitz and Grayson.

As Cyrus sits on the swing, idly swaying back and forth, he thinks back on all the times that he, himself, had talked about forcing the old order to pass on as he marched towards his ascension.

The Exile knew, at some point, that others would follow the path that he carved out and seek to do the same to him.

But, he didn’t expect it to be so soon.


“Is this really it? Is this where the Road is leading me?"

Cyrus speaks out loud. He knows full well that nobody’s around to hear him. The only people that can hear him are himself and whatever ghosts might be haunting him.

“I’m supposed to be the best. Or at the very least, I’m supposed to be somebody who’s taken seriously. But, I’m not. I’ve held the FWA World Championship for more combined days than anybody in history…and the only thing people are talking about is Chris Peacock winning another title with his supposed best friend.

“Nobody gives a damn about the World Title match.

“I’m a fucking joke who can’t beat a man in a weasel costume and a Day of the Dead reject. What the hell is wrong with me? Where did I go wrong? I…I…”

Cyrus runs his fingers through his hair, hair that has grown long and frazzled. He hides his face with his palms, as if it’s the only thing that’s keeping all the emotions from spilling out.

“This can’t be it.

“This CAN’T be how this all ends.

“I’m Cyrus Truth. I’m supposed to be BETTER than this.

“...why am I not better?

“Are these kids, these nascent champions…the ones who are going to end me?”

The way he says that? The tone is incredulous defiance. But beneath the mask, a hint of reluctant acceptance starts to seep through.

And Cyrus Truth can’t bring himself to admit that what he fears may well already be happening.

Instinctually, Cyrus lets out a feral scream. One that’s laced with pain, anger, frustration, and the sorrow of a man who’s realized that what borrowed time he may have had left is running out a lot faster than he wants it to be.

After screaming, Cyrus immediately starts looking to see if that has gotten any attention. A frantic glance tells him that, yes, he’s still alone. Either no one heard it, or no one paid him any mind.

Cyrus wasn’t sure which was better and which was worse.

The Exile doesn’t say anything else. He just sits there, alone, trying his hardest to not let sorrow or anger overcome him again.

The Road to Back in Business should be the greatest and most exciting time in Cyrus Truth’s career. The culmination of all the work, all the suffering he’s endured since having his throne taken away from him, having to see so many champions come and go and not have the strength and force of will to keep the throne long enough to build a legacy…and the opportunity to not only reclaim that throne, but prove that the world hasn’t passed him by.

And yet…Cyrus Truth, here in this little park in this corner of a Mexican city, looks like the most miserable person on the planet, waiting for the night to end and the sun to rise…


*******

mw6rN6juwGR83hoB9_A46zC7Obix-EEIRq3JCbqDFJ2GuVoo0f9ui0GFecm3-awcLg69YYf29lQdxlByTI325BkEnw8LeKUsSOy9vsknWW6mppSfMF1bjdxZwI1y9X3CsiFP1az7cIQNdyPfkOiR9BU


“And welcome back, marks, to the Armchair Wrestling Podcast…”

The day after the most recent editions of Meltdown and Fallout, a new episode of Armchair Wrestling drops on both Google and iTunes. Armchair Wrestling, hosted by radio personality and New York Times bestselling author Simon Saxon, has become one of the most prominent podcasts amongst the wrestling community.

While Simon was certainly charismatic, he also was a bit of a shit stirrer. He often used his podcast to not so much report on the happenings in the wrestling scene, but to pimp the wrestlers he thought were hot commodities and bad mouth the ones that he didn’t like or thought were utter trash.

With Back in Business right around the corner, Simon’s podcast has been seeing an uptick in listeners. And the host certainly was aware of that, and more than eager to give his opinion about the upcoming super event.


“So, before the commercial break, we were talking about Back in Business. And I could talk about this whole nonsense regarding introducing ANOTHER championship to FWA, or how one of their biggest match is putting to bed a feud that started in another company with a guy who’s never wrestled a goddamn match in this federation, but that’s not what I want to talk about.

“No, what I want to talk about is this limp-dicked main event title match between Chris Peacock and Cyrus Truth.

“Look, Chris Peacock? Love him. I mean, I may not get the whole disco gimmick, but he’s a hell of a showman and he’s been having a hell of a run. That loss against Toner aside, he’s been going from strength-to-strength, and it looks like FWA might finally have a champion that can carry the torch into the future without fumbling it.

“But, I gotta be honest with you, marks. I am not hyped for Peacock’s title match. And I think, you know, being the main event of the biggest show of the year? I should be. And you know who’s to blame for that? Cyrus Fucking Truth, that’s who.”

The venomous, dismissive way that Simon says Cyrus’s name tells his listeners everything they need to know about his opinion of the former four-time FWA World Champion. As if that wasn’t obnoxiously obvious enough, Simon apparently hits a button on a soundboard, where the exaggerated sound of a man snoring loudly serves as a blatant punctuation point.

“Why is this guy still wrestling? I mean, let’s be honest with ourselves. He’s not that good anymore. Hell, I think he was never that good to begin with! Sure, he won Carnal Contendership, but everybody knows the only reason he won was because FWA gifted him the last entry in the match. Yeah, don’t try and convince me that shit was randomized. When Alyster Black spoke a couple shows ago? He was talking the absolute fucking truth. Cyrus is a joke. A has-been and never-was that was the product of hype and a series of fortunate circumstances.

“And the thing is, I could forgive ALL of that if he wasn’t so goddamn LAME. This is supposed to be the build for the premier match at the premier event on FWA’s calendar. Chris Peacock? He’s challenging big names and winning even more championships! What the hell is Cyrus Truth doing? He’s tapping out to a literal rat bastard and letting himself get bamboozled by a guy who is the absolute definition of a 50-50 wrestler.

“Look, I’m going to say it because we’re all thinking it. Cyrus Truth is a fucking joke. A jobber who got caught up in his own hype and has refused time and again to get with the program. Wrestling’s not the same business it was five years ago. You either adapt or you get left in the goddamn dust. But The Exile? Nah, he’d rather talk about how much better he is because he doesn’t change. Well, what the hell good has your tin-plated values gotten you so far, hmm?

Another soundboard clip, this time of a screeching woman shouting “Nobody cares!”

“Truth, if you’re listening? And let’s be honest, you probably are, you mark. Nobody cares about you anymore. And even the ones that say they used to care are lying to you. You’re a boring, self-righteous bum who, when he speaks? Gods fall asleep. Chris Peacock is 1000 times the showman you are. Hell, even Death Walker and weaselperson are more entertaining than you, and clearly? Recent evidence is proof that they’re obviously better wrestlers than you anyway.

“And while the champion’s going to do what you couldn’t and skin that weasel, you’re probably going to lose to a Japanese girl in a mask who, guess what? Is more entertaining than you!

“Look, I’m not Katsu’s biggest fan myself, but at least she’s been willing to change things up. She ditched that weird Vampyra shtick, did a coaching gig on Ground Zero, and has her own crew. She’s working hard! She’s making some waves, doing some different stuff. Hell, my feelings on this new Trios Championship aside, she and her Yokai Squad are probably the front runners to win the Trios Titles…you know, presuming she can get past her Ground Zero protege.

“She’s young, she’s good-looking, her mask is a marketing gold mine. See, THESE are the kind of people that FWA should be focusing their efforts on. Not washed-up fossils who refuse to change or just leave when nobody wants them around anymore. Katsu? If you’re listening…you know, why do I always say that? Everybody who’s anybody is listening to the Armchair Wrestling podcast.

Simon laughs at that, despite the fact that it wasn’t even a joke or even particularly funny.

“Katsu, do wrestling a favor. Break that bastard’s leg. Nobody cares about Cyrus Truth, no REAL wrestling fans like Cyrus Truth, and the world doesn’t deserve to have to suffer through someone like him in the main event of Back in Business. I know you’re a pretty nice person and all, but this is legit a service to entertainment and taste. Take. Him. Out. Take him out, force him to abandon this stupid personal redemption quest and let us have a main event we actually fucking want.

“Chris Peacock versus Alyster Black? Chris Peacock versus Danny Toner?”

Another button press on the soundboard generates the “Cha-Ching” sound of a cash register.


“...Chris Peacock versus Cyrus Truth?”

Simon scoffs as his soundboard plays an exaggerated snoring sound effect.

“So yeah, other wrestling journalists and podcasters might say it’s bad taste to wish for a wrestler to get injured, but I don’t give a shit. I hope Cyrus breaks his goddamn neck and finally rids us of having to listen to another one of his droning, self-righteous promos or suffer through another one of his pathetic excuses for a wrestling match. And if Katsu’s the one who pulls it off? Well, then call me a Katsu simp, because she’d be my savior.”

The soundboard, punctuating Simon’s point, plays the “We’re not worthy!” chant from “Wayne’s World.”

Simon again laughs at his own antics before shifting gears to a sponsorship plug for some Raid: Shadow Legends. The podcast would continue for another hour or so, but nothing discussed was quite as acerbic as his diatribe against The Exile…


*******

The Internet is a vast playground and meeting hall for business, pleasure, and conversation. Professional wrestling, ever since the advent and expansion of the Internet, has had massive communities of fanatics, amateur analysts, writers, and role-players diving deep into dirt sheets, newsletters, rumors, and scuttlebutt.

One of those communities, a Discord server group called “The FWA Fanatic Station,” finds three of their members in a call together. One of them, Celtic Crab, was playing the Armchair Wrestling Podcast for the other two.

As the podcast wrapped up, another user by the name of SteelKite69, started to go on a bit of a mini-rant as he was loudly chortling.


“Fuck yeah! Simon’s hitting hard with the facts and logic. Why the hell does FWA keep that scrub Cyrus around? He’s clearly not that good anymore if he’s letting newbies like Death Walker get a pin on him. And tapping out to weaselperson? What a loser, right?”

The third person on the call, a man with the username JoshiSuper, chimed in to the affirmative.

“Yeah, Truth’s definitely washed. And Simon’s got the right idea, backing Katsu-chan.”

“Dude, I’ve told you to stop it with that weeb crap.”

“Hey! Don’t be mad just because Katsu is my waifu.”

“She’s not your…oh, God. You are SO cringe.”

“No, you are!”

“I’m not getting into this discussion with you again. Look, your weird otaku bullshit aside, I’ll grant you that Katsu’s definitely on the rise. And if Simon thinks she can roll Truth, I’m all for it.”

“Of course she can! She’s the best! And she’s got the Yokai Squad backing her up. What does Cyrus have? The same old moves that he’s been using for years, the same lame gimmick that he refuses to let go of? He’s tired. He’s SO out of his depth, and Katsu’s going to humiliate him like everybody else has been doing the last few years.

“You think she’ll take him out? You know, like Simon said?”

“Oh, no! Of course not! Katsu-chan would never do something like that! She’s just so sweet, and innocent, and pure, and…”

“Dude, you’re being creepy again.”

“...Right. But no, she’s not going to go so far as to injure Cyrus. But hey! Maybe when she beats him, it’ll be enough to convince him to give up on trying to beat Peacock at Back in Business. Hey, you think Katsu-chan could get the shot if she beats him? I mean…she definitely deserves it.”

“Oh, hell no! Your stalker-level obsession doesn’t mean she deserves it more than Toner or Black. Hell, it’d even be more dramatic if the new Tag Team Champions were to fight one another for the World Title. Hey, Crab! What do you think?”


Celtic Crab, who had been quiet throughout this whole conversation, doesn’t immediately respond to SteelKite69’s question. SteelKite, impatiently, asks again.

“Hey! Crab, what the hell? Did you DC?”

“...No, I’m here.”

“Well, what the hell, man? I asked you a question.”

“I heard you.”

“And?”

“And I think the two of you are a couple of idiots.”


“Excuse me?”

“You heard me. All you’re doing is parroting that shock jockey motherfucker’s talking points. Hating on Cyrus is so tired, you know?”

“Hey! You’re just saying that because you’re one of his fans.”

“So what? That doesn’t mean I’m not right. Yeah, Cyrus isn’t the same person he was when he was the champ. Yes, plenty of wrestlers have gotten the better of him. And sure, there’s plenty of people who didn’t want this as the main event. But it IS the main event. And personally? I don’t see why so many people aren’t excited about it.”

“Um, maybe because Cyrus isn’t doing anything to hype it up?”


“Why should he? Why is it just HIS responsibility? Aside from self-promoting himself and trying to take attention by commentary, what's Peacock done to hype this match?”

“Look, it’s a moot point! Besides, he’s going to lose to Katsu-chan and…”

“If you honestly believe that, you clearly aren’t just a fanboy. You’re suffering from a mental condition.”

“Excuse me?!”

“Who the hell do you think Cyrus is? Truly?”


*******

As this conversation continues on Discord, our scene changes.

Far away from the prying eyes of a public that has started to abandon him, lose their faith in him, and wish for him to just fade away into the mist, Cyrus Truth is not wallowing in sorrow.

He’s not paralyzed with fear and doubt.

Cyrus Truth is training.

Training like never before.

As he’s going through a series of vigorous exercises, Celtic Crab’s voice speaks over it.


“The thing you don’t get…this main event may not be what you want it to be. But it’s exactly what it needs to be. It’s the final stretch in a career that has spanned nearly two decades. And if I were Katsu? I’d be absolutely terrified.”

The scene changes, as Cyrus is studying film. Watching Katsu’s previous matches, from her early start as Vampyra, to her Television Title win and subsequent loss, to her rebirth as Katsu and the formation of the Yokai Squad. His hawkish eyes, barely blinking, are taking in everything that Katsu has done in FWA up to this point.

Not in judgment. But in an effort to find her weaknesses, her shortcomings…openings he can exploit that he failed to do against weaselperson and Death Walker.


“Katsu’s good, I’ll grant you. But there’s a very good reason why a lot of wrestlers have quit for years at a time, if not permanently after facing him. There’s…something that Cyrus brings, win or lose, that nobody on FWA’s roster has been able to replicate. Something that’s allowed him to remain behind when pretty much every other legend that’s ever walked through FWA’s doors would’ve cut their losses, back away, and only come back when it’s most convenient for them.”

“Yeah? What’s that?”

“A willingness to die before admitting defeat.”

Another scene change, this time in a dilapidated, well-worn wrestling ring. Here, Cyrus is practicing counter-wrestling. It seems that he’s found some old contacts from the joshi wrestling scene to train against, to better prepare to fight against that style of grappling.

However, it’s clear that this “practice” is basically a match in-and-of itself, as Cyrus finds himself slipping against his practice partner, a middle-aged joshi journeywoman who trips him up with several unique pins. She taunts him in Japanese, asking him if he wants to give up.

Cyrus, defiantly, kips up in a rare display of youthful athleticism. Cracking his neck and massaging his chin where he got drilled with a superkick, The Exile holds his hand out and motions for his training partner to bring it on.


“You think Cyrus wasn’t embarrassed by losing to that loser, Death Walker? You think he hasn’t been stewing on that? Everything he’s done is being questioned. Wrestlers that would’ve done anything to avoid him are crawling out of the woodwork like vultures looking to pick at a carcass, thinking they can position themselves as the next in line to wear the crown. Katsu, as nice and honorable as she may be, isn’t any different. This is a four-time World Champion just in FWA, and everybody around him is just writing him off as a lost cause or someone they can easily beat to boost their own stock in FWA.

“But that’s the thing…”

THWACK!

An attempt at a joint lock by the joshi is blocked with a vicious elbow to the side of her head. The joshi, tough as nails, doesn’t cry foul, but is immediately overwhelmed by Cyrus’s second wind. The two immediately stand, center ring, and start laying into one another.

It’s a vicious, stiff exchange. But eventually, Cyrus gets the better of it, whipping his training partner hard into the corner of the ring.


“If he were to quit, right now? Nobody could say with any honesty that his career isn’t one of, if not the most impressive in wrestling history. To have been so dominant for so many years, even with all the detractors both in and out of wrestling…you know, it’s so easy to look at recent history and think that’s Cyrus’s ceiling, ignoring the fact that he’s done just about everything that wrestlers around the world strive for.

"Even so, he hasn't left. Why? Only Truth knows for sure, but if I had to guess? He can't just let losers like Simon or those shithead FWA wrestlers have their way. He's spent his entire career doing everything he can to earn respect, and nobody wants to give him that anymore. Even the people who say they respect him still only see what beating him will do for them.


“Katsu’s opportunity? Couldn’t have come at the worst time. Cyrus Truth is not about to go easy on her. He’s not about to let someone else get one up on him, especially considering the ways he’s lost his most recent matches. And while Katsu may not be willing to cross the line and try and take Cyrus out? You can be damn sure Cyrus isn’t hesitant about that.”

“You can’t be serious! There’s no way Cyrus could ever hurt Katsu-chan!”

“Oh yeah?”

We see back in the ring that Cyrus has blocked an armdrag, driving his forearm into the side of his training partner’s head. There was absolutely no hesitation. Cyrus was pulling no punches.

And as the joshi staggers, he brings her down to the mat and immediately, without wasting any time, he drags her down to the mat and locks in The Long Road to Nowhere.

The joshi quickly taps. She has no intention of suffering, and that’s not the point of this whole exercise. Both she and The Exile get back to her feet, as they share a smile and Cyrus tells her, in Japanese, to start over again.


“Try telling that to Bell Connelly. Or Eli Black. Or any of the dozens of wrestlers who thought they were hard enough to beat Cyrus Truth when he was on the warpath.

“And that’s the point. Alyster Black, Danny Toner, Katsu, weaselperson, Death Walker…sure, they might be the new flavor of the year. And maybe you’re ADD-ridden minds might like everybody fumbling the World Championship like kids trying to play keep away with a ball. But I know for a fact that, while this is a hobby or career or passion for so many FWA wrestlers?

“For Cyrus, this is life. And this is death. Humiliation isn’t a dagger. It’s a bitter pill. One that a man like Cyrus will swallow. But where it would kill someone else’s career? I believe, without a shred of doubt, that he’s going to come back strong for it.”

“So, you think he’s going to beat Katsu-chan?”

“I do. Even if Katsu manages to pull off what Death Walker did? It won’t matter. Katsu’s going to lose something for standing in Cyrus’s way. Because The Exile? He’s mad. He has to be. And if past events are any indication? When he’s riled up and has something to prove, he’s the scariest wrestler in the world.”

“Oh, God. Stop sucking him off, already.”


Celtic Crab, instead of rising to the bait, just…laughs.

“Just watch, Kite. Katsu’s got a bright future ahead of her…but only if she survives what Cyrus is going to put her through. He’s not going to go quietly. He’s not going to pull a Devin Golden and seek out suicide by wrestling match. He’s going to find a way to fight back against this wave of discontent against him.

“And if I were Chris Peacock?”

A heavy metal door opens to a busy city street. From it, emerges The Exile.

There’s a certain…edge that wasn’t there. His eyes look…sharper. More focused, more prepared and rested. His hair and beard? What was once scraggly and ill-kept has been cut short, trimmed and cleaned up.

Cyrus Truth, in spite of everything that’s been happening? In spite of the world slowly but surely writing him off as a vestige of a bygone era that was just going through the motions trying to cling to a hope he should’ve long abandoned?

Cyrus Truth looks…refreshed. Restored to something that he once was.

Not fully. Never fully again. But The Exile looks like a hungry wolf who's gotten the scent of meat and blood. A look he hasn’t had in a while.

Whatever was going on against weaselperson and Death Walker?

That Cyrus wasn’t going to be the Cyrus that the Yokai Queen was going to face on Fallout.

No…Katsu would be facing something far worse. Someone far more dangerous and sharp.

Across the door he emerged from, plastered on the wall, is a poster with the face of Chris Peacock, grinning cockily with the World Title on his shoulder.

Cyrus, without missing a beat or stopping to even think about it, tears the poster away, crumples it, and tosses it aside.


“If I were Chris Peacock? I’d be scared out of my mind.

“After all…if everybody’s saying that Cyrus has nothing? Then what exactly does he have to lose anymore?

“What reason is there...for him to hold anything back anymore?”
 
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Flight_of_the_Peacock_2.jpg


Flight_of_peacock_2_loading_screen_promo_2_onwards.jpg


FOP2_Level_Four.jpg


Christopher of Lynbrook and Alyster Black let out a collective, relieved sigh. They looked down at the bodies of The Bandit Queen and her Bandit Prince; hers with a large stab wound through the gut courtesy of Christopher’s golden sword and his intact aside from being without a head. The matching golden necklaces which were once the symbol of their connection now around the necks of Christopher and Alyster.

“With both of those, people are going to start to think you have some sort of obsession, Christopher.” Alyster said, motioning towards Christopher’s sword and then his necklace. Alyster caressed his own. “It feels good to be able to touch gold again without it burning my hand.”

“Yes… it does.” Christopher only half paid attention to what Alyster said as looked as Octillian slithered away in the distance away from the battlefield, not wishing to confront the duo further following the deaths of his most-skilled soldiers.

Alyster stepped closer to Christopher and put a comforting hand on his shoulder. “Do you think that will be the last of him?”

“I don’t know, Alyster.” It was true. Christopher had learned to never assume that his battles with Octillian were over. Defeating the two bandits and breaking their connection did not guarantee anything. If it was not them, it would be others. That was just how Octillian operated.

He decided that it was not something that he needed to concern himself with. It was the right thing to do to enjoy the moment with his closest friend now that they were truly connected and history would always remember their bond. “It doesn’t matter. We must celebrate and enjoy our victory! There must be a tavern around here somewhere. Some mead would go down very well after all of that. Some dancing, too.”

Christopher did not need a verbal response from Alyster, as he knew that his partner was on the same page as him. They turned their backs on the battlefield and walked towards the sunrise together. It could have been the sunset; they were unsure due to how long the battle had lasted. Alyster kicked the decapitated head of The Bandit Prince as he passed it and the two greatest warriors in all of Fantasia embarked on their next adventure together with Apri flying alongside them.

FOP2_The_End.jpg


**********

A solitary - but very enthusiastic - applause echoed around the room as Chris Peacock stood back from the table after leaning on it to explain the ending of [/i]Flight of the Peacock 2[/i]. The lone clapping belonged to Allen Price, sat at the other end of the conference room, and he only paused to wipe a tear from his eye before it streamed down his face. “It’s beautiful, Chris. I think even those hardened gamer types are going to get choked up by this story…”

“Right?” Chris said with a broad grin on his face. It had taken him a long time to think about how to reflect his and Alyster’s first FWA World Tag Team Championship victory. He was very happy with how the story reflected the bond between him and his best friend. “You think Alyster is going to like it?”

“He’d be a fool not to! Drink?”
Allen didn’t even need to look at Chris to know the answer and he slid open a cabinet in the corner of the room and turned around with two martini glasses in his hands. Chris laughed as Allen did a little dance with the glasses, causing him to drop one of them, but he caught it just before it would have smashed on the table.

“After everything me and Alyster have been through… I couldn’t think of a better way to immortalise our team. Our friendship…. Our brotherhood.”

“Hey, after the first one went down so well - you fighting the Nephews and it ends with you beating Devin Golden to become champion, it is going to be another hit! You know, I’ve had an idea for a movie as well, Chris. How does Chris Peacock fighting… ZOMBIES sound?”


Chris nodded his head, impressed with the acumen shown by his agent and watched as Price shook the tumbler with great focus as to ensure that he did not drop it. In fact, Chris had never seen Allen make a pornstar martini without dropping it. Surprisingly enough, Price completed the task without spillage or droppage and poured the orange liquid out into the placed glasses. “Don’t forget the passionfruit.”

“You never eat it!”
Price argued, but he knew that he would end up putting the slice of passionfruit in the drink anyway, even if it was for nothing more than decoration because Chris didn’t even like it. Once the slices had been dropped into the glasses, Allen passed one to Chris and then raised the other. “Here’s to another success, Chris. Cheers!”

The excitement and the enthusiasm being displayed by Chris and Allen was not met by the third person in the room, who had not moved or said anything since Chris had finished his pitch for the video game’s story.

“Wait, so that’s how it ends?”

The joyous atmosphere was cut short and Chris looked over at Nova Diamond, who steadily rose to his feet and tucked his chair back in before walking around the table towards the now dejected-looking pair. “It just seems a bit… hollow. Do you know what I’m getting at?”

“YOU SHUT YOUR DAMN MOUT-”

Allen’s outburst was cut off by Chris who held him back with one arm without much trouble, and Nova was of course completely unfazed by it. The creative meetings that the three of them had been part of always involved at least one instance of Price flying off the handle at something that Nova had said. The root cause was a jibe made by Diamond towards Chris several years ago which Allen could never seem to get over, even though it was water under the bridge for the two retired former FWA World Champions.

“Allen, remember, he knows what he’s talking about and I trust his judgement. That’s why he’s here. He knows his shit. I’ve been through enough with him to know that he’s worth hearing out, so cool it.” The flustered and heated Price turned around and threw a hand in the air out of frustration, and Chris turned back to a mildly amused Nova. “Hollow how, Nova?”

“It just doesn’t really feel like the end of the story, mate. Yeah, it’s great that Christopher and Alyster had this big bro moment and finally beat the bad guys, but I don’t know if it is satisfying enough. Plus, it doesn’t actually reflect what happened when you guys won the titles for the first time.”


Chris scoffed and then rolled his eyes and Nova let off a knowing smile, pleased in the knowledge that he had reminded Chris about a memory he would have sooner forgotten forever. “Fucking weaselperson...”

It was true that Chris had omitted the blemish on his and Alyster’s championship celebration on Fallout 030; weaselperson arriving to confront Alyster and Chris cutting the exchange off short with an admittedly cheap shot to the back of the disguised Zachary Kazadi’s head.

“Alright, fine. I’ll give you something a little more true to life.”

**********


FOP2_Level_Four.jpg


Christopher of Lynbrook and Alyster Black let out a collective, relieved sigh. They looked down at the bodies of The Bandit Queen and her Bandit Prince; hers with a large stab wound through the gut courtesy of Christopher’s golden sword and his intact aside from being without a head. The matching golden necklaces which were once the symbol of their connection now around the necks of Christopher and Alyster.

“With both of those, people are going to start to think you have some sort of obsession, Christopher.” Alyster said, motioning towards Christopher’s sword and then his necklace. Alyster caressed his own. “It feels good to be able to touch gold again without it burning my hand.”

“Yes… it does.” Christopher only half paid attention to what Alyster said as looked as Octillian slithered away in the distance away from the battlefield, not wishing to confront the duo further following the deaths of his most-skilled soldiers.

Alyster stepped closer to Christopher and put a comforting hand on his shoulder. “Do you think that will be the last of him?”

“I don’t know, Alyster.” It was true. Christopher had learned to never assume that his battles with Octillian were over. Defeating the two bandits and breaking their connection did not guarantee anything. If it was not them, it would be others. That was just how Octillian operated.

He decided that it was not something that he needed to concern himself with. It was the right thing to do to enjoy the moment with his closest friend now that they were truly connected and history would always remember their bond. “It doesn’t matter. We must celebrate and enjoy our victory! There must be a tavern around here somewhere. Some mead would go down very well after all of that. Some dancing, too.”

Christopher did not need a verbal response from Alyster, as he knew that his partner was on the same page as him. However, before they were able to depart the battlefield as victors together and celebrate, a figure approached the two of them from the nearby forest. It was a bipedal beast with bulging eyes and covered from head-to-toe in thick, matted brown fur. It was truly a monstrosity and it seemed to have no issue in confronting them as it bounded towards them at some pace.

“This cannot be happening. How did he find me here?”

“You know this wretched beast?”

“weaselperson. It has been hoping to take the Black Tower for its own for some time now, trying to goad me into a fight every chance it can.”

“Can you not use the dragon to repel it?”


“No one is supposed to know about the dragon! And no, this is something that I must deal with myself, but it is going to be on my terms.”

Christopher stepped forward to meet weaselperson, who ran straight past him and towards Alyster. It did not attack the necromancer, but instead barked loudly and repeatedly into Alyster’s masked face. That was until Christopher unsheathed his golden sword once again and swung it towards weaselperson, relieving the beast of its head in one clean and strong action. Blood spewed from its neck and onto Alyster, who watched on in mild amusement as weaselperson’s body slumped to the ground.

“That’s one way to do it.”

“Now, that tavern…”


They turned their backs on the battlefield and walked towards the sunrise together. It could have been the sunset; they were unsure due to how long the battle had lasted. Alyster kicked the decapitated head of The Bandit Prince into the decapitated head of weaselperson as he passed it and the two greatest warriors in all of Fantasia embarked on their next adventure together with Apri flying alongside them.

FOP2_The_End.jpg


**********

“Is that any better?”


Chris sat down in his chair at the conference room table again and watched as Nova paced at the opposite end of the room, deep in thought. He found it interesting watching the man he felt like he knew so much but so little about work, despite all of the time that they had spent together. Nova’s knowledge of games was almost unparalleled with anyone else he knew - he wasn’t going to ask Gerald Grayson for obvious reasons - but it was his grasp on the inner workings of someone’s mind that Chris was most interested in. If anyone could make a story compelling, it was Nova Diamond, the theatrical.

Whilst Chris was content to study Nova and watch the cogs in his mind turn, Allen was not. “What’s taking so long?”

“Allen, can you seriously just show a little bit of patience, please. I know it is hard, but can you just let the guy do what he needs to do?”


Allen aggressively scraped his glass across the surface of the table, which Chris perceived as an attempt to throw Nova off of his trail of thought, but this attempt was of course fruitless. In fact, Chris was surprised that Nova was content for Allen to remain in the room. “How hard is it to say if you like something or not, Chris? What’s with all of the pantomime?”

“That part is easy, Price.”
Nova showed that he was aware of what was happening in the room despite being lost in the thoughts tumbling around his head. “I don’t like it. I’m just trying to figure out why I don’t like it.”

“YOU SON OF A BITCH-”

“ALLEN FOR FUCK’S SAKE THAT’S ENOUGH!”


With the character of Apri being based on Allen, it was no surprise that Alyster also needed some space when trying to revive Chris ahead of their fight with The Bandit Queen and Prince. Price was exasperated to the point beyond reason and he rose from his seat and pushed the conference room door open and stormed out. “Sorry about that, man.”

“Thank you, Chris. Look, you’ve got the realism down pat now and you’ve mirrored what actually happened out there, but it doesn’t really mean anything. You’ve made a hollow ending… even more hollow. It is a tricky one.”
Nova sat back down at the table opposite Chris and leant back in his chair with his hands behind his head. “Okay, let’s try this. We’re going to pad it out a bit more. Let’s get some of the motivations in there and make a bit more of a story of this. Tell me, why did you attack weaselperson that night?”

“It’s pretty simple, Nova.”
Chris said matter-of-factly. “He was coming after Alyster and I wanted to protect him. Like I said, Alyster is like a brother to me. We’re more than just a team. Ride or die.”

“I don’t know what that means.”

“It’s a pretty common expression. You haven’t watched enough Fast and Furious movies.”

“I have watched three too many.”

“Look, the point is… Alyster was my guy. weaselperson was coming for him so I just stepped in and had my guy’s back. It isn’t that deep.”


Nova paused the back and forth and looked at Chris quizzically for a moment, and Chris felt like he was the one being studied. Diamond let off a small shrug and then moved forward in his seat and placed his hands on the table. “Okay, work with that feeling. Think about where that would take you and we can go from there.”

**********


FOP2_Level_Four.jpg


Christopher of Lynbrook and Alyster Black let out a collective, relieved sigh. They looked down at the bodies of The Bandit Queen and her Bandit Prince; hers with a large stab wound through the gut courtesy of Christopher’s golden sword and his intact aside from being without a head. The matching golden necklaces which were once the symbol of their connection now around the necks of Christopher and Alyster.

“With both of those, people are going to start to think you have some sort of obsession, Christopher.” Alyster said, motioning towards Christopher’s sword and then his necklace. Alyster caressed his own. “It feels good to be able to touch gold again without it burning my hand.”

“Yes… it does.” Christopher only half paid attention to what Alyster said as looked as Octillian slithered away in the distance away from the battlefield, not wishing to confront the duo further following the deaths of his most-skilled soldiers.

Alyster stepped closer to Christopher and put a comforting hand on his shoulder. “Do you think that will be the last of him?”

“I don’t know, Alyster.” It was true. Christopher had learned to never assume that his battles with Octillian were over. Defeating the two bandits and breaking their connection did not guarantee anything. If it was not them, it would be others. That was just how Octillian operated.

He decided that it was not something that he needed to concern himself with. It was the right thing to do to enjoy the moment with his closest friend now that they were truly connected and history would always remember their bond. “It doesn’t matter. We must celebrate and enjoy our victory! There must be a tavern around here somewhere. Some mead would go down very well after all of that. Some dancing, too.”

Christopher did not need a verbal response from Alyster, as he knew that his partner was on the same page as him. However, before they were able to depart the battlefield as victors together and celebrate, a figure approached the two of them from the nearby forest. It was a bipedal beast with bulging eyes and covered from head-to-toe in thick, matted brown fur. It was truly a monstrosity and it seemed to have no issue in confronting them as it bounded towards them at some pace.

“This cannot be happening. How did he find me here?”

“You know this wretched beast?”

“weaselperson. It has been hoping to take the Black Tower for its own for some time now, trying to goad me into a fight every chance it can.”

“Can you not use the dragon to repel it?”


“No one is supposed to know about the dragon! And no, this is something that I must deal with myself, but it is going to be on my terms.”

Christopher stepped forward to meet weaselperson, who ran straight past him and towards Alyster and with its fangs bared. As he turned around, Christopher heard the blood curdling screams of his partner as he was pinned down on the floor by the rabid beast and Christopher watched in horror as weaselperson tore a chunk out of Alyster’s neck and spat it out on the floor.

“NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!”

Alyster’s choking on his own blood was the only sound that could be heard after Christopher’s scream. There was a moment where Christopher looked over at weaselperson and weaselperson stared back at him with a blank expression on its face. Almost like it was taunting him and the death of Christopher’s best friend didn’t mean anything.

In a fit of rage, Christopher picked up the first thing he could to throw at weaselperson, and it happened to be the decapitated head of The Bandit Prince. The head bounced off of the creature’s chest and it then charged at Christopher, who met it head-on and the two fell to the floor and rolled around in a brawl. Christopher managed to get his hands around weaselperson’s throat and squeezed as hard as he could.

**********

Chris was standing in the conference room, simulating the throttling of weaselperson in the game as his likeness was. “Then after I’ve got them right to the edge, right when their light is about to go out, that’s when I lean in and I look them right in the eyes and I say to them… this is for my friend, you abomination! Then glurgh, dead.”

There was an overly long silence in the room as Nova absorbed what he had just witnessed with a perplexed look on his face. Chris slowly pulled his hands back away from the imaginary strangling and put them on his hips.

“What do you think?”

“You know what? I think that was my fault. I led you to that and to act on those feelings. I should have known it would have brought that cringey edgelord bullshit back out of you. I’m sorry. That’s my bad.”


Whilst not on the same level as Allen, Chris was also beginning to feel frustrated. “I don’t know what you want me to say, Nova.”

“I want you to start telling the truth, Chris.”
Nova stood up to match Chris and walked around the table towards him. “Tell me why you actually hit weaselperson with the world title.”

“Nova, I already said-”

“No no no. I heard what you said, Chris. You said that back then you hit weaselperson because he went after Alyster, that’s not what I saw play out in version three just now.”
He raised a finger and put it in Chris’s face and gave him a knowing grin. “I think the real reason you hit weaselperson actually had nothing to do with Alyster. You know, I’d actually put money on you hitting weaselperson because they interrupted your celebration after your big win.”

“That’s not true-”

“Oh, after Michelle and the Nephews rained on your world title parade, there was no chance you were going to let that happen again, were you?”

“At least I had time to have a parade.”


Nova did not rise to the jibe made by Chris as he was being backed further and further into a corner. “You’re acting out, which tells me that I’m onto something. I don’t think you’d try and upset me if I wasn’t striking a nerve, would you? Tell me when I am telling lies.”

Chris remained silent. He knew that Nova was speaking the truth and calling him out on his true motivations. The ones he wished he could suppress.

“It was an act of pure pettiness, Chris. That’s why your focus just now was purely on revenge and getting back at weaselperson. Did Christopher even check if Alyster was still alive? Didn’t Alyster almost die trying to save Chris? Where was the reciprocation, mate?”

“Nova, you don’t understand. I-I-I’d do anything for Alyster. You can’t downplay that and twist it into something else. That’s not how it is.”

“Then how is it, Chris? Tell me. I want to know.”
Nova held his arms out, almost as a show of defence. “You wanted me here to tell you shit how I see it and that’s all I’m doing here. I’ve got no agenda. Allen is paying me by the hour no matter what we talk about here.”

Chris let out a drawn sigh. “Let’s say, I did it because I was annoyed at weaselperson so I took the chance to take a cheap shot at them. You’re going to ask me why I was annoyed, so I’ll just tell you.

Firstly, let me be clear. What I said about Alyster wasn’t a lie. This fucking guy in a dumb weasel costume was going after my best friend and I didn’t like it, okay? I wanted to prove to Alyster that I had his back… even though he already must have known it by then. Everyone was saying that I was using him or it wasn’t real and yeah, we were called FTN. Everyone knew what that stood for and we’d just accomplished what we’d set out to do. I’ve had close people in the FWA leave me before - Ramon and Danny being just two of them - and I couldn’t allow the same thing to happen with Alyster. I had to let him know that I was looking out for him by any means necessary.

The whole idea of weaselperson - and fuck it, I am just going to call him Zachary - it just pissed me off, Nova. I didn’t get it at first. Here you have someone who can make a case for being the best actual wrestler we’ve ever seen in the FWA and THAT is what he chooses to do with himself? I sat and watched him at the Carnal Contendership that year and I didn’t know what to think. I kept judging him, but I knew inside how hypocritical that was after I had spent so much time trying to overcome the stigmas that I had dealt with.

If a disco dancer can become the champion of the world, why not a guy dressed as a fucking weasel who barks? Then I realised it, Nova. It hit me. I was the problem. By being the funny disco man and being as successful as I was, I opened that door. These things weren’t gimmicks anymore, they were paths to success. It’s my fault that things like that existed. I didn’t want that to be my legacy, I still don’t.

So the fact that this walking, barking manifestation of the bullshit that I had empowered was coming after MY best friend? You can bet your ass I’m taking that shot and I’d do it again every single time.”


There was intensity in Chris’s voice as he spoke and Nova looked at him, sensing that there was more he needed to say. The expression on Nova’s face tried to eke that extra bit out of Chris.

“Yes, I was being a little bit petty and that’s why I did it. What does that mean for the game?”

There was no answer other than a raised eyebrow from Nova.

“Okay, I was being very petty. I was celebrating the second biggest win of my career and he tried to fucking ruin it. I was pissed off. You’ve got me. Just tell me what this means for the story in the game, please?”

“It can mean lots of different things for the game, Chris. I think you have an idea, though.”


Chris didn’t offer a response, because Nova Diamond was right. Just thinking about weaselperson more and his role in shifting the landscape to a point where something like that was acceptable made him realise who the true final boss of the game should be.

It wasn’t the Nephews or weaselperson.

It wasn’t even Cyrus Truth.

It was Chris Peacock.

This is his story.

 

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Click on the above title for PDF.

plain text shite version:
wAaF0UiyqdhsmnNOj8JjUGimYfSjQauHBrQNKbJJ9sxetvVyfHMhQaJV4iU26ZVR4MU89GaT5pk1vIYLwxDhb364ztefBDQKUp8tLJq2nxsADI7M3YkuonUFagUhtbMR02v_jeRceYavjw0OSxVBm3Y


Danny Toner Does the Right Thing and Rides the Bomb to Hell.


What the fuck is happening?


That is the sole thought that Danny finds himself being able to form as he spits blood from his mouth and feels his hair being clenched tightly by an iron-clad grip. It’s a wonder it doesn’t rip clean off his skull as he roughly gets pulled around a corner in the backstage arena of Estadio Olímpico Benito Juárez. Danny’s head spins and he can just about focus his vision enough to see Ryan Rondo dragging him toward the Gorilla position. Rondo glances down at Danny and upon seeing that his former best friend is looking up at him, he reaches back and clatters him with the hairy side of his hand.


“Ryan - RYAN!!! Stop, man! Come on, G! Enough!” splutters Danny, his cheek instantly turning a crimson red from the impact. Danny meekly tries to break Rondo’s grip but is immediately met with a ribcage-cracking knee. Danny wheezes, desperation beginning to set in. “Ryan, I’m freakin’ beggin’ you to let- ARRRGGHH!!!”


Danny finds himself torpedoing through the air, colliding head-first with a large, metal, production crate before crumpling to the ground in a heap. Danny feels himself going limp on the floor as a hundred thoughts rush through his brain, the predominant one being: why on Earth did he fuck with Ryan Rondo? Danny shuts his eyes and cowers as he senses a figure looming over him. He does what he can to ready himself for impact but… it never comes. Instead, he hears a voice he wasn’t expecting from above him. The voice of Jon Russnow.


“Jesus! Leave some for Randall next week, would ya?” says Russnow, his unmistakably narcissistic voice a dead giveaway to his identity. “You won’t even have anything left for yourself at Back in Business at this rate.”


“Get the fuck out of my way,” replies Rondo, in a quiet yet demanding tone.


“Far be it for me to stop what is about to happen,” Russnow laughs cruelly. “Just don’t take it too far.”


Though he didn’t know it yet, they would be the last words Danny would hear before his total destruction at the hands of The Last Star in the Sky. The Juárez fans were about to witness first-hand something people the world over had wanted for nearly a year. Since Back in Business XVI, every wrestling fan in the world had wanted to see Danny Toner get his come-uppings and while a shock loss to Lizzie Rose less than an hour previous had whetted their appetite, Ryan Rondo was about to ensure that they ate very well indeed.


Danny tries to escape it; he rolls onto his stomach and gingerly begins crawling away from the rampaging Rondo to the Gorilla position - the only direction he could go. Danny can taste the metallic twang of his blood rolling down his forehead onto his lips, and even in a crawling position he feels like he is about to buckle beneath his weight. For the briefest of moments, Danny thinks that he might get away. Maybe Ryan would listen to Jon. Maybe Ryan had decided he’d dished out enough punishment. Maybe Ryan would remember that Danny and he were lifelong brothers who had been through hell together. By the time Danny pops his head out onto the stage and nearly has his eardrums blown off by the Mexican crowd’s roaring of approval at his distress, he realizes something far too late. He wasn’t escaping. This is exactly where Ryan was shepherding him to.


Danny’s head is reeling as he kneels on the stage, the deafening noise of the crowd chanting for Rondo to “fuck him up” only adding to the uncontrollable panic Danny feels coursing through his veins. Despite his blurry vision, Danny can see Rondo sizing him up, a dangerous glint in his eye.


“PLEASE! I’m beggin’ ya, man! I’m done, I swear, I’ll do anythin’,” Danny pleads, a mixture of tears and blood rolling down his face in a vile manner. “I’m sorry, I’M FUCKIN’ SORRY!!!”


Despite Danny’s beseeching, Rondo sprints at Danny and drills him with a thunderous right knee. It’s light out at first impact and Danny doesn’t come close to coming to until he finds himself riding high on Rondo’s shoulders. Even in his dazed state, Danny knows he is in massive danger. Yet he cannot do anything to stop it. He feels the wind rushing past his ears as Ryan sprints forward with him being held on his shoulders, the explosive crowd nearly inaudible as blood rushes to his head. Ryan launches him and despite the velocity of the move, Danny feels as if things are going in slow-motion as he flails through the air for what seems an eternity before he comes crashing through a pile of production crates and onto the unprotected floor…


… and then he keeps going.


And going.


And going.


0shKF9txd8CSoJDQg8rWu_CMM-jerz_Pn5HE4bN7xL9AdEkISfTo61bwf1EdPbDBukjDZL3ooxZIzCr2ki7SjAPvdCay5RhwXH-h1jILxGjhrJWgQUySqs5sq6avpZL5glf9O-HGcLoOD9EzEdzVo30


Circle I – Limbo


Danny lands with an almighty thud, pain searing through his back as he lays on the floor groaning loudly. He is seeing stars at first, but after blinking a couple of times in quick succession he finds his vision slowly returning to normal. He turns his head to the left and from his eagle-spread position on the ground views nothing but a derelict wasteland for as far as the eye can see. He can literally see nothing aside from an endless, barren landscape. He moans in agony as he tries to push himself to a seated position and is taken aback by the sound of a voice.


“Rough landing there, mate,” comes a familiar tone. Danny rubs some of the dried-in blood from around his eyes and looks in shock at the man standing before him; Nova Diamond. Nova jovially nods his head at Danny in the manner one would expect when bumping into an old friend in a supermarket. “You alright?”


Nova offers a hand to Danny but it goes ignored as Danny frantically looks around trying to make sense of the situation he finds himself in.


“The fuck is goin’ on?” blurts Danny, confusion dripping from every syllable. “Where the fuck are we?”


“Ahhh,” muses Nova. “Not the easiest questions to answer, as it happens.”


“Well ya could freakin’ try, man!” responds Danny, indignantly. “Help a brother out here; we’re in… well… I don’t freakin’ know what to call this place but look around, Nova - it ain’t exactly Disneyland. This shit’s all sorts of fucked up.”


“I guess most people call it ‘limbo’,” begins Nova. He looks beyond Danny and into the vast emptiness, an unreadable look on his face. “I dunno about that though, mate, I’ve always thought limbo to be a mental state rather than an actual place.”


“I’m freakin’ dead?”


“Noooot exactly,” Nova says. He offers Danny his hand once more. “More like… eh… ‘trapped’ is a good word for it.”


Danny takes Nova’s hand and winces in pain even though Nova very gently hoists him to his feet. “Careful, bud!”


“Sheesh,” Nova shakes his head and tuts. “Our boy really did a number on you, huh?”


“Motherfucker went way too far. He beat the fuckin’ piss outta me! And for what!?”


“Uhh….” Nova hesitates. “Do you want an answer or do you want to rant, D?”


“I want to stomp his fuckin’ teeth down his throat!” Danny declares, his bruised jaw tightening as he clenches his teeth together. Danny glances at his surroundings with a look on his face that suggests he is mentally trying to will them to change. “Firstly though, I gotta get out of this hellhole. What do we do?”


“Interesting word choice,” Nova chuckles, though doesn’t reveal the source of his laughter. “It’s a bit of a gray area but I don’t think you’re in Hell… yet.”


“Yet?” Danny questions.


“I don’t really know how to break this to you Danny, but umm…” Nova trails off, unsure of how to proceed.


“Just freakin’ say it,” Danny suggests, completely unaware of just how dire a situation he finds himself in. “I’ve been through some shit, it can’t be that bad.”


Nova looks Danny in the eye and then sighs. “It is.”


Something about Nova’s tone makes Danny feel a bit of dread and he readies himself for the revelation.


“It appears, I mean, it seems that - and I’m not sure how exactly,” Nova explains, getting tangled up in his sentence as he tries to rationalize it in his head. “Uh, it seems like Ryan powerbombed you to…”


“Come on, dude!” Danny interjects after Nova’s lengthy pause. “Out with it for fucksake!”


“To Hell,” Nova states simply. “And lemme tell you mate, what you’re going to see isn’t pretty.”


Danny seems a little startled by the news but his first question isn’t one that Nova expects. “How the fuck did you end up in Hell? The fuck you do?”


“Ehh…” Nova ponders thoughtfully, brushing a hand through his hair. Danny’s eyes are drawn to the dust particles that sprinkle from his hair. He wonders how long his friend - well, someone Danny hopes is still his friend - has been in the apocalyptic landscape. “I don’t think it’s a question really of what I did but rather… what I didn’t.”


“I ain’t followin’.”


“I’m here because I didn’t believe in their shit, Danny,” Nova says quietly, his voice lowering slightly. “I’m not a sinner just because I disagree with some decisions. It doesn’t make me evil to call things as I see them and call out bullshit when necessary, does it? Of course not. What it does make me, though, is a non-believer. I don’t recognize the higher powers and I sure as shit have no faith in them. I don’t believe in what they want me to, and as such, I’m stuck here in limbo.”


“Damn,” Danny whistles through his pursed lips. “That’s a lot, bud, for real. Is there a way for ya to get out?”


“Perhaps,” Nove says cautiously. “Though how about we just cut straight to it, mate? What you really want to know is if there’s a way for you to get out!”


“Yeah, man of course!” Danny bellows. His face shows signs of visible distress. “Have you not looked around? We’re in the middle of no-fuckin’-where!”


“Well, I mean, technically we’re in the first circle,” Nova explains. “The first circle of Hell.”


“How many of these places are there?”


“Nine.”


“Are you fuckin’ kiddin’ me? Nine?” Danny’s face is one of genuine shock, he shakes his head a couple of times, trying to clear out the cobwebs from Rondo’s powerbomb. “Let me guess… I’ve to go through them all to get out.”


“Actually, you’ve got to go through them all to confront the devil,” Nova states matter-of-factly. “Then, I dunno, you might be able to get out.”


“I might!?” Danny shrieks shrilly. “Nova, bud, please tell me you’re just fuckin’ around with me?”


Nova stays silent as Danny looks him deeply in the eyes. For some reason, Danny feels like Nova will tell him the truth, no matter how bad it might be. Maybe they are still friends. “I’m not fucking with you, Danny.”


“FUUUUUCCCKKK!!!!” Danny tilts his head back and roars into the sky, the sound of his guttural growl reverberating around the wasteland. Danny finally takes a breath and looks at Nova. “Aight, so this is happening, ain’t it? I better get freakin’ on with it. Where to next?”


Nova smiles at Danny and points to the horizon. From what Danny can make of the view, it would be a long, tiring, slog to wherever Nova was going to take him.


“It will take some time,” Nova grumbles, but not in a grumpy tone that suggests displeasure at the idea. “Let’s go, mate.”


After a long walk through the wasteland without crossing a soul, Nova finally stopped and pointed into the distance. Danny needs to strain his eyes, but when he does, he can see the silhouette of some kind of small settlement. Danny is about to speak but Nova unintentionally answered the question Danny was about to ask.


“Maybe two hours. Three max,” Nova reckons. He looks at Danny and smiles sadly. “I won’t be able to go with you beyond that point but I’ll explain to you on the way about the gatekeepers you will encounter and the punishments you will face.”


Nova resumes walking without waiting for a response. Danny feels his stomach tighten in anticipation, he’d just been beaten by Lizzie Rose and physically violated by Ryan Rondo. If they could do that, just what the fuck could the devil do to him then? Danny shudders at the thought, the recent hits he’d taken were already having an adverse effect on him both physically and mentally. Danny slaps his face and takes a deep breath. He’s been in fucked up situations before and this pressure isn’t something new to him. He’s been in tight spots before. He’s got this.


“WAIT!” Danny screams after the figure of Nova which is turning into a mere dot with every passing second. Danny begins running in that direction and shouts after Nova. “Did you say fuckin’ PUNISHMENTS!!?!”


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Circle II – Lust


Danny crosses over a wooden bridge to a small village on the other side. From a distance, despite its small stature, it appears to be lively and inhabited. Danny pauses at the end of the bridge and then turns to wave goodbye to Nova. Danny turns back around and takes an up-close look at the village and something nearly immediately catches his attention. All the people in the village are women. Not just any women either, every single one of them is drop-dead gorgeous. Danny feels a grin creeping up on his face and for the first time since Lizzie rolled him up, he thinks things might not be too bad after all.


With an excited chuckle, Danny steps off the end of the bridge and plops his first step onto the soil of the settlement… and goes right through it. No sound escapes Danny’s lips as he free-falls through the earth, but the look of sheer terror on his face tells all you need to know. Finally, Danny lands right smack on… the middle of a comfy bed? Danny takes a second to look around the room. It is bare-bones but tasteful in design, with expensive-looking wooden furniture yet not even a cheap television. Danny wrinkles his nose at the aroma in the room, the scent of perfume lingers but only partially masks the smell of marijuana. Danny turns to look at the bedside locker - no picture. Danny shuffles off the bed and stands up to get a better look at the room; that’s when he sees it. A painted canopy resting on a wobbly-looking easel.


It is one of the most intricately detailed paintings done by brush that Danny had ever laid eyes on. Each stroke was masterful and deliberate, and it came together to make a stunning representation of a couple standing arm-in-arm, happy. The feeling of love between the two nearly bounced off the canvas in front of him. Danny feels his heart flutter as he gazes lovingly at the beautiful painting of himself and Michelle von Horrowitz.


A strange sensation spreads throughout Danny’s body as he looks longingly at the painting, memories of things he hadn’t until this point been able to recall begin flooding his brain. Their first kiss. The first time they lay together. The time she brought him to Rotterdam, kicking and screaming, against his will because he was too short-sighted to see beyond Amsterdam… Danny finds himself laughing as he remembers sitting with her by a canal in Rotterdam, lazily passing a joint back and forth, and finally admitting that she was right about coming there. Of course, she was. She was always right. She was perfect. Danny’s heart swells as he thinks of his Michelle. The woman he was going to spend the rest of his life with and hopefully - if he could convince her - begin a family with.


The door creaks open and Michelle’s slender frame slips through the door. He beams at her and goes to kiss her on the cheek as he does every day when she comes home.


“Danny, no,” Michelle resists, pulling her face away. “We can’t do this anymore. It’s not real.”


Danny feels his heart shatter into a million pieces. He looks at her crestfallen. “But why not, darlin’? How is it not real? We love each other.”


“You love me,” Michelle offers, taking another step back from Danny, inching closer to the door. “I don’t love you.”


“That’s not true,” Danny exclaims. Rather dramatically, he rushes toward her side and claps her hand in his. “We were meant to be together.”


“This isn’t what I want, I’m in love with another man,” Michelle answers stoically. “I’m leaving you for Kennedy. I’m sorry, Danny, we just weren’t meant to be.”


Danny begins to well up as Michelle leaves as quickly as she arrived. Soon, the solitary tear rolling down his face turns into full-on water works and Danny finds himself a sobbing mess on the floor of their bedroom. He pounds the floor in anger before rising up and tipping over the bedside locker in a fit of rage. He grabs the painting from the canvas and has designs on destroying it but finds himself pausing as he looks at the painting.


The sensation kicks in again, and Danny finds himself thinking of things he’d never previously thought of. Things he didn’t even know had happened until this point. Hiking up Grouse Mountain hand in hand with Michelle. Proposing to her at its highest peak. Laying with her in the very bed in this room on their wedding night. Thoughts of Michelle leaving him for Kennedy disapparate and by the time Michelle slinks into the room for a second time, it’s as if they never happened. He beams at his beauty as she stands in the doorway. He bounds towards her but she stops him with a hand.


“What’s wrong, my love?” Danny asks. “Did something happen?”


“I have something to tell you,” Michelle admits, a sorry twang to her tone. “I’m having an affair with West. He is who I want to be with. I cannot lie to you, Danny. We’re finished, we can’t be together.”


The tantrum Danny throws as Michelle leaves him is tenfold to what it was with the previous, forgotten incident where she left him for Kennedy. She did not understand how his heart yearned for her. She was all that he wanted and everything he desired and as he lays there sobbing over losing his love, dark thoughts enter his mind. Would he ever be good enough? Would fate ever allow them to be together?


Danny feels a pain in his chest and he clutches his head with his right hand while grabbing the easel with his left. His breathing intensifies and the rhythm of his heartbeat is irregular, the syncopation causing Danny to panic. Sweat forms above his brow and as he wipes it off, he once again catches sight of the painting that he is leaning against. More unrecognized memories enter his consciousness; Michelle telling him that she is pregnant, the birth of their baby girl that they named Ellie after countless late-night arguments, their first family trip together - to Rotterdam, of course. The room begins to spin as images flit through Danny’s mind in rapid succession. They could not be memories, for Danny and Michelle were far older in these. Ellie’s graduation day from New York High School, her wrestling debut where she sent Madison Square Garden into a frenzy by pinning three-time World Champion Makima Snowmantashi following a picture-perfect 450 Splash, Ellie’s own wedding day where she tied the knot with the love of her own life: Elizabeth Golden.


Danny falls to his knees, screaming, as even more imagery penetrates his mental space like a dentist drilling into a particularly sore tooth. An elderly Michelle telling him she has cancer, and demanding a Camel Blue (something she had given up some twenty years previously) as it didn’t matter now. Holding Michelle’s hand as she lay dying in their bed and promising her that he wouldn’t give up, he’d keep fighting and stay strong for Ellie’s sake. Failing to keep that promise as he swallows a bottle of pills and collapses to the floor.


With a bang, the door slams open. Danny looks up as Michelle enters the room.


“Don’t say a damn word,” Danny blurts out. “Just don’t say a word. I know what you want to say. I know that you’re going to leave me and tell me we can’t be together. That you have to go.”


“You’ve always been sharp. That’s what drew me to you,” Michelle whispers coyly. She laughs a little. “That and your handsome face, of course. I won’t beat around the bush: you’re right, we can’t be together. But it’s not because I don’t want to be or because I have to go.”


“Then why can’t we be?” Danny cries, genuine pain lacing every word. “Why does it have to be so difficult? Why can’t we be together?”


“Because you have to go, tulip,” Michelle alleges, a sad smile on her face. “This time… it’s not me.”


“I don’t want to go!”


“You have to, you have no choice. Maybe we will get another chance, maybe it was just destined to be this way.”


Danny lets the words hang in the air. He looks down at the ground, awaiting the inevitable departure of Michelle. After a few moments of hearing no movement, Danny casts his head up and looks at Michelle.


“Why are you still here?” Danny enquires, the surprise clear in his pitch. “Why haven’t you left yet.”


“I told you already,” Michelle stands back to clear the way to the door. “This time, it’s you that has to go.”


“I don’t want to leave you,” Danny sobs, wiping away tears from his face. “All I want is to be with you.”


“I know,” Michelle says bluntly. “I know you do, tulip, but… you can’t. You need to go on.”


Despite inner protests, Danny has always been one to bend to Michelle’s will. He would do anything for her. No matter how hard it was or how much it hurt him. He sniffles as he feels the tears dry on his cheek, and he takes a couple of unsteady steps toward the door. He hesitates as he passes a sullen-looking Michelle, and for a brief moment, all he wants to do is hold her in his arms and tell her that he’ll be here forever. 99% of his being is telling him to stay but that 1% is urging him to go on and Danny feels compelled to listen to that tiny voice in his head - in his heart - amongst all the rest of the mental shouting that is demanding he stays with Michelle. He sighs and tears his eyes from Michelle and to the door in front of him. He places a hand on the metal handle and pulls open the door before sprinting outside, pulling it shut behind him.


Almost right away, he regrets his decision and pivots back to return to Michelle but he finds no door. He finds nothing. No way back.


“Very good,” a soft voice seductively speaks from behind Danny, causing him to jump. He turns around and comes face to face with Gabrielle Montgomery.


“Gabrielle?” Danny’s voice is a mixture of shock and wonder. “What are you doing here?”


“This is lust,” his former stable-mate and lover explains. “You are in the second circle of Hell and I am the gatekeeper of this region.”


Danny’s brain feels like it’s about to collapse in on itself as he tries to separate the numerous sentiments running through his mind. He is unsure of what is real and what isn’t. He thinks hard and slowly he begins to remember meeting Nova in limbo and him explaining that Danny would have to pass through the nine circles of Hell, enduring punishments along the way.


“Not all punishments for your sins will be physical,” Gabrielle offers as if she could tell what he was thinking. “Some will, and they will be no doubt atrocious, but the punishments that play with your mind are arguably worse. They zone in on your biggest mental blocks and deepest fears and force you to confront them over and over again. The punishment for each person is different, specific to the sins they themselves committed. Your punishment for your lust was quite heart-wrenching. I was even jealous of how you looked at her - for a brief second.”


Danny stares dumbfounded at The Caramel Goddess - an apparent misnomer given her current residence in the second plane of Hell. What he had just gone through with Michelle had felt so sincere, he was having a hard time accepting it was not real. His mind was still bugged out from it and Danny shudders as he imagines what the rest of the circles and gatekeepers had in store for him. Eager to press on and leave this torment behind him, Danny asks Gabrielle just one question.


“Can I go, please?”


“Of course, you can,” Gabrielle beams, extending her arm to Danny. “Just take my hand.”


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Circle III – Gluttony


Danny feels the earth plummeting around him as he grabs Gabrielle’s hand. He closes his eyes and lets his mind go blank as he feels the air zip upwards past him. He kicks his feet in the nothingness and loses his grip on Gabrielle’s hand. After a few seconds, the sole of his foot makes contact with something solid. He slowly cracks open his eyes and when he does, he gasps loudly.


Danny finds himself surrounded by absolutely gargantuan humans, their stomachs stretched to the point of bursting, chained to brick walls that look like they belong to the interior of a castle. The smell is pungent and Danny gags as one of the people nearest to him groans before expelling an explosive stream of diarrhea from their anus. The people chained to the wall are all naked yet Danny cannot make out the gender of any of them. The only thing identifiably visible is rolls upon rolls of excess flab.


Danny begins to take heed of the finer details of these people’s plight; they are not only chained to the wall but their mouths are being forced open by a plastic-tube device. What looks like slop is relentlessly being funneled through the tubes and directly into the mouths of the prisoners from a never-depleting supply in a machine that somehow hovers in the air above them. Danny watches with morbid curiosity as he notices there is no way for the people to relieve themselves and tries not to vomit as his runner squelches in the murky brown substance underfoot. A smaller man - tiny, really, in comparison to the prisoners - sits on a throne made of sharp, jagged, daggers at the end of the top. He beckons Danny towards him. Danny makes his way to the man, trying his best to ignore the real-life piggery he finds himself in.


“What the…” Danny cuts his sentence off as he glares at the man sitting on the throne. “What the fuck is this, Saint?”


“Ah, I’d heard you were here alright,” proclaims Saint Sully rather grandly. “Welcome to my humble abode right here in the third circle. We call it gluttony. I reign supreme here.”


“Really?” Danny arches an eyebrow and looks around at the colossal figures chained to the wall. “You’re the gatekeeper of gluttony? You’re a skinny piece of shit, how the fuck does that work?”


“A skinny piece of shit! Is that what you thought of Lizzie?” Saint chuckles. He leans forward on his throne. “Is that what you think of Jason Randall? Just as well you’re here then, Danny-boy! Couldn’t have another embarrassment on your hands now could we?”


Sully’s mocking manner and his general air of superiority peeve Danny, but his real content stems from the fact that the words spewing out of Saint’s mouth happen to be true. Even in Hell, he felt burning embarrassment about losing to Lizzie Rose, and if he were to lose to Jason Randall, he would consider himself well and truly disgraced. It was true that Randall held a victory over him, a notable one to be fair, but it was many years ago. Danny respects Jason as a competitor and admires his chin but surely, surely, Danny had surpassed Randall and was now on a level very few would ever hope to reach. He’d grown and knew he was better than Jason Randall. Wasn’t he?


“As for making sense of being the gatekeeper of gluttony, we’ll, it’s simple really,” Sully drones as if it was the most obvious thing in the world and the fact that he had to explain it to Danny was boring him. “Being glutinous usually refers to someone’s penchant for eating too much, or perhaps over-indulging in drinking too much, but really, it means over-consumption of any kind.”


Danny thinks of Saint and the era in FWA when he held the X, North American, and World Championships simultaneously. The triple champ. A truly dark timeline. Suddenly, his role as gatekeeper of gluttony makes a little more sense.


“I care little about you and even less about your journey,” Sully confesses openly. “Though you cannot pass through without receiving punishment for your own gluttony.”


“What are you freaking talking about?” Danny demands, clearly offended. He looks down at his stomach, his abs aren’t as hard as they were about nine months ago but he certainly wasn’t fat. Danny wasn’t one for overindulging. “What damn gluttony? I don’t do that shit!”


“Is that so?” Sully poses the question in a smarmy, know-it-all manner. “What of your copious drug use? The blunt you seem to have permanently hanging from your lip? Or how about all those days and nights you’ve spent guzzling from a bottle of Jameson? Oh, you’re a glutton if ever there was one, Danny Toner. And now, now you’ll pay for your sin.”


Sully leads Danny to an unoccupied chain on the wall beside him. Despite wanting to protest, Danny knows he must endure the punishments if he is to make it further into Hell and confront the devil himself. He allows Sully to lock him in the clasps and attach him to the chain in the wall. Sully disappears and returns with a silver dining tray. On it are a quarter of unbranded whisky, three fat lines of cocaine, a huge cone-shaped joint, and a syringe filled to the brim with a golden-brown substance.


“I thought this was supposed to be hell!” Danny cheers gleefully. “No wonder you decided to stay around here!”


“You can take them in any order you wish, but you must finish it all before going,” Sully clarifies the task at hand to Danny. Danny laughs heartily - this one will be a piece of cake. This isn’t a punishment. This isn’t hell. This is heaven.


“That’s it? Just finish them all?”


“That’s it,” Sully smirks sadistically. “Should be a walk in the park, right?”


Danny doesn’t even respond, he simply leans over and sniffs a line off the silver tray in front of him, a task that proves more difficult due to only having one hand free. It takes a little bit of time and some precise maneuvering but after half an hour, the only thing left on the silver tray is the syringe full of heroin. Danny is a bit woozy as he flicks the end of the needle, but tells himself the bliss that is about to follow will wash it all away. He plunges the needle into his arm and allows his eyes to roll back into his head…


The room distorts and instead of Sully and his glutinous prisoners, it is replaced by footage that plays mutely. Picture is enough for Danny, he doesn’t need audio to narrate the going one as he is all too aware of what happened already. Danny watches as Jason Randall issues an open challenge for Back in Business 2018. He continues to look at the footage even though he remembers what happens next; Danny dismisses Jason’s open challenge and issues one of his own. Randall doesn’t take this lightly and ends up attacking Danny, setting in stone a match that 2018 Danny is sure he will win at Back in Business XXII.


Danny is shaken out of his stupor by Saint Sulley who is standing in front of him with another syringe. Danny mumbles but is incomprehensible due to the effect of the alcohol and drugs.


“Guess I’ll just help with this one,” Sully states plainly before roughly jabbing the needle into Danny’s arm. He then forces a tube into Danny’s mouth and laughs wickedly. “Don’t want you going thirsty either, do we?”


Danny tries to protest but falters immediately, the heroin coursing through his veins gripping him as Sully pours an endless amount of whiskey down the tube. Danny’s throat burns as the liquid hits it but his suffering doesn’t last long as he once again passes out…


But he didn’t win the match against Jason Randall. Danny knew this as the match between Randall and himself plays out in front of him, again without audio. He was sure he was going to win at the time, he hadn’t even really afforded Randall the time of day in 2018, and it was shockingly reminiscent of Danny’s feelings on facing Randall in 2023. Danny Toner is simply better than Jason Randall in every conceivable way. It’s not up for debate. But… that’s exactly what he said in 2018 and what happened? If he couldn’t remember - or chose to push it to the deepest recesses of his mind so he didn’t have to remember - he was out of luck. What he was viewing was an exact replica of the match he had with Randall. Danny could somehow feel every loaded punch and stiff kick Jason threw at him en route to his eventual victory. Like most Toner matches, it ended with a knee to the jaw, only this time it was Toner on the receiving end of it. Toner is queasy as he watches the replay of the match from five years ago. He feels sick.


No, he is sick. Danny begins puking uncontrollably into a bucket at the feet of Saint Sully as the gatekeeper of gluttony towers over him cackling. At first, Danny spews up lumpy vomit but after a few minutes, he is puking nothing but off-color liquid and bile. After an eon, it finally stops and Danny gasps for air, choking on it as the feeling is something going in - even oxygen - is foreign to his throat after so much going out. Sully grabs the chain attached to the wall.


“You can go,” Sully explains as he unlocks Danny’s clasp. “The door behind me leads to the next circle.”


“H-h-how do I get there?” Danny stammers, shaken from his experience in gluttony. “I’m so weak I don’t even think I can walk, man.”


“The answer seems simple,” Saint states, turning his back on Danny and retaking his seat on the throne. He stares down at Danny with nothing but discontent in his eyes. “Crawl, dog.”


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Circle IV – Greed


What Saint Sully failed to tell Danny - you can make up your own mind as to whether this was intentional or not - was that it wasn’t as simple as crawling through the door behind his throne to the next circle. While it was true that the next circle was behind the door; he had not said anything about the dirty and cramped tunnel that spanned several miles. The tunnel Danny was forced to traverse on his hands and knees went down further into Hell. At times he could barely notice the decline, at others, it was so steep that Danny half-crawled and half-fell down the tunnel. Danny is at quitting point - though he is unsure if that just means he would be left to rot away in the tunnel between the third and fourth circles - when he sees a light at the end of the tunnel. It was maybe two hundred yards away but despite his renewed vigor at seeing an exit, he was still forced to dig his hands into the dirt in front of him and drag himself to it - quite literally by clawing his way there.


As he finally enters the light, Danny sighs contently. He had no idea how the passage of time worked in this hellscape, but it had literally felt like he was fighting for years to get to this point. A man coughs lightly and Danny looks up to see what awaits him following his climb to this point. The matted, shoulder-length hair throws Danny for a moment but on closer inspection, he realizes that he is staring into the battle-hardened face of Chris Kennedy. Chris makes no movement and says nothing as he looks down at Danny. Danny tries to speak but falters.


“Save your breath, Toner,” Chris croaks, his voice raspier than Danny could recall. “Don’t let my presence here fool you; this is not the end, to be frank, you have a long way to go. I’m sure you’ve wanted to come face-to-face with me for a long time, to air out your grievances. I’ve had the luxury of finding myself here for quite some time, and to be honest, I no longer have any gripes with you or anybody else from above. I’ve made my peace.”


“Here?” Danny wheezes weakly. “You’ve made your peace here?”


Chris grimaces as he looks around the cold, stone-walled room that is illuminated by a sole torch. “There are worse fates than ending up in the fourth circle. There’s more above the ground to worry about than there is down here. Here, all I have to do is live in eternal punishment for my sin… that’s easy compared to what you have to deal with on Earth.”


Danny struggles to his feet, the arduous journey seems to have expedited the drugs and alcohol he was force-fed by Sully wearing off. He stumbles forward but manages to steady himself before he hits the ground.


“Can you walk?” Chris pointedly asks. “You won’t need to do much else. Your punishment for greed is of the mental variety. If you can make it to the next room all you’ll have to do is sit there and… endure.”


Danny nods his head, opting not to expend energy on needless things like having a conversation with Chris Kennedy. As they walk down a connecting passage to what Danny assumes is the next room, it becomes apparent he needn’t have spoken even if he wanted to converse - Kennedy was talking anyway.


“I say you’re surprised to see me here,” Kennedy asserts cockily as he leads Danny down the passage. He actually stops for a moment and turns to ascertain his own assumption by gauging Danny’s reaction. Though Danny thinks there is a plethora of reasons why Chris Kennedy would end up in Hell, he isn’t sure which one of his many sins was his ultimate undoing, so Danny just nods. “Greed, Danny-boy, greed. For all the people I defeated, all my victories - nefarious or otherwise - and successes, all the championships and accolades I have accumulated. It really should not be a surprise.”


“But…” Danny protests, scarcely believing he is about to willingly offer The Astonishing praise. “You earned them. No matter what I think of ya, I can’t deny you that.”


“So you actually are bright,” Chris laughs, winking at an unimpressed Danny. “I did earn them, you’re right. I had everything everyone could ever hope to achieve in a professional wrestling career and then some but still… still I wasn’t satisfied. Amongst all the pay-per-view main events, the world titles, the greatest of love from the fans, and at times, the utmost of ire from the same people… the one thing that was my pride and joy, the one thing that was mine and only mine was the streak. Nine times I entered Back in Business and no matter the opponent, nine times I walked out victorious. Nobody could ever have hoped to eclipse such a record. I barely got by Krash. Some go as far as saying that I shouldn’t have got past him and that I should’ve known the gig was up.”


“Maybe.”


“Yeah, maybe…” Chris admits, not offering anything more on that particular topic. “In any case, I couldn’t resist. I couldn’t leave the streak at 9-0 despite how momentous that feat was… I had to get 10. I won’t make excuses, I’m sure everyone has drawn their own conclusions about what happened, but I look back at that with regret. If I hadn’t of been so greedy as to stretch for the 10 against one of the greatest wrestlers of all time… maybe you’d be talking to somebody else in this circle.”


They reach a peeling, old door just as Kennedy finishes speaking. He opens the door and ushers Danny inside. Danny is surprised at the contents of the room: a large projector screen, two huge speakers, and a solitary wooden chair facing toward the aforementioned items.


“What’s this,” Danny laughs, looking at Chris in bewilderment. “Movie night? Ya ain’t gettin’ in here without at least a steak dinner, Kennedy.”


“It’s nice to hear you laughing. There won’t be much of that once we’re done here.”


“Aight then, spill.”


Chris ignores Danny’s demand and instead motions towards the chair in the room. Danny gingerly sits down on the chair, wary of any unexpected surprises but finds it is just a chair. He starts to ease and get comfortable, thinking that he quite likes his new set-up when comparing it to what has come previously. He leans back in the chair, it is obviously very old, but Danny finds it somewhat comforting. Danny finally starts to relax and then it happens - a quick electronic whirring followed by a loud SNAP! - Danny’s face falls as he sees metal restraints across both his wrists. He manages to turn his head enough to see that Kennedy is no longer in the room. He is about to shout out when the room plunges into total darkness. Suddenly, extremely loud drum-and-bass music begins blasting out of the speakers; not nightclub or concert loud but ear-drum bursting loud. Danny screams in pain but of course, it cannot be heard over the music. The screen in front of Danny kicks into life and he has nowhere to look but at that. What fills the screen horrifies him more than anyone could possibly comprehend.


Danny Toner and Randy Ramon swing from the FWA World Tag Team Championship belts high above the ring at Back in Business XXII. Danny seems to have a better grip than Randy and begins kicking out his rival. Randy manages to hang on as the two sway above the ring. Danny coasts toward one of the ladders and uses his foot to launch himself off it and toward Ramon… right into the mid-air Remix that sent him plummeting thirty feet to the ring below and ending the classic TxR and Golden Rock rivalry once and for all.


As soon as Danny’s body hits the canvas the screen goes to static. It is instantly replaced by a scene of Danny reeling from a Bittersweet Chin Symphony at Fallout 007. Kennedy lines him up for a second - one to ensure he walks away with his FWA World Championship - and takes the first step in his motion before Randy Ramon nails him with a Remix. Danny steadies himself against a ring rope just as the ref slaps his hand to the mat for the second time and dives towards Randy and Chris hoping to break the pin but makes contact a split-second too late as the referee had just slammed his hand on the canvas for a third time, bringing the match to an end and the spoils once again to Randy Ramon. The screen immediately turns to static and then the first clip plays again. When it ends, the second one immediately starts back up.


On and on, these two intertwined clips repeat themselves repeatedly to the backdrop of the pulsating, ear-numbing, drum-and-bass as Danny is forced to watch the two occasions in his life when he overreached, strived too high, and flew too close to the stars. It is a special kind of punishment. One reserved to inflict suffering due to Danny’s greed. Danny was soaring higher than he ever had before that summer but twice he wanted more than he should have and twice he found himself wishing he was anywhere but the ring. At first, Danny tries to fight against the restraint or close his eyes so he does not have to watch what is in front of him but after hours of this treatment, he finally slumps in the chair and resigns himself to his faith and possibly life-long hyperacusis. Finally, the music stops and the lights turn on. If it weren’t for the sudden influx of light in the room, Danny would swear that the music was still playing such was the ringing in his ears and the imprint the track had left on his brain.


“You okay, Toner?” Kennedy queries, remerging from wherever he had gone while Danny was punished. Danny twitches in the chair and Kennedy takes this as a sign of life and begins releasing his restraints. Kennedy looks at Danny, taking pity on the man. “Come on, get up, I’ll help you to the next circle. God knows you’ll need it.”


Danny says nothing, he is completely zoned out and could barely hear Chris. Chris throws Danny’s arm around his shoulder and guides him to the next circle.


0shKF9txd8CSoJDQg8rWu_CMM-jerz_Pn5HE4bN7xL9AdEkISfTo61bwf1EdPbDBukjDZL3ooxZIzCr2ki7SjAPvdCay5RhwXH-h1jILxGjhrJWgQUySqs5sq6avpZL5glf9O-HGcLoOD9EzEdzVo30


Circle V – Anger


Danny takes in his diabolical surroundings as the ringing in his ears fades slightly. He stands in front of what seems to be a mountain of skeletons in varying states of disarray. He spends some time wandering around the perimeter at the bottom of the mountain of bones trying to find a way around it. As his futile search comes to an end, Danny resigns himself to the inevitable - something he probably should have done immediately upon his arrival in the fifth circle. He was going to have to scale up the carcasses, of course he was, this was Hell at the end of the day.


His first attempt at finding a grip on the mountain results in him dislodging a femur bone from some unfortunate soul. The second attempt sees his heel crack straight through a brittle clavicle. Various attempts are made, resulting in Danny having more firsthand experience than anyone could ever possibly need with the human skeletal system. At long last, Danny begins to make slow progress up the side of the mountain. It isn’t really climbing, it is more Danny launching himself upwards into piles of bone and clinging on for dear life. Despite a few tumbles and a lot of bruising from the impact of landing on bones, Danny finally reaches the summit, collapsing at the peak. He is short of breath and barely getting his head together when he is unceremoniously cracked over the head.


“YOU FUCKING BASTARD!” a recognizable but unidentifiable voice screams. “You no-good, piece of shit!”


Danny looks up through blurry eyes to see the very last person he wants to see - in any quadrant. Randy Ramon towers above him and wastes no time in stiffly kicking him in the sternum. Randy follows up by dragging Danny to his feet and DDT’ing him into a pile of bones.


“You’re the reason I’m here,” Rockstar seethes, delivering another kick to the downed Danny. “You’re the reason I’m forced to be the gatekeeper of anger.”


“I-I-I’m so-so-so…” Danny’s words trail off as he struggles to breathe.


“You’re what? You’re sorry? You’ve never been sorry for a damn thing in your life.”


In any other encounter in this hellish landscape, Danny would vehemently argue this and try to rationalize his past actions while pleading for forgiveness. He nearly does, when he sees a jacked to the nines Ramon advancing towards him welding a fibula bone like a club, but he just takes one look at that stupid fucking red bandana and gives Randy the double middle finger from his supine position on the floor.


“Fuck you,” snarls Danny. “FUCK YOU YA FREAKIN’ ASSHOLE!!!!”


For the briefest of seconds, a begrudging smile flickers on Randy’s face. Danny and he are destined to go at each for eternity, no matter the dynamic. Even in Hell. Even in fucking Hell. The smile fades… and it begins. The most asinine, one-sided beating to ever take place in any realm.


Danny’s defiance is immediately slapped out of his mouth with a straight right to the jaw. Ramon mounts Toner and begins dishing out clubbing blows to his head with zero regards. He pauses just long enough to catch his breath and then hits a flurry of elbow shots which leave Danny a bloody mess, writhing on the bed of human remains.


“You think you’re so freaking tough,” Randy spits the words out of his mouth before he drills Toner with another right hand. “You prance around the ring and take over every interview with your tough guy act, telling everybody that is forced to listen to your shit that you’re baddest motherfucker to ever lace up a pair of boots. You forget yourself, Danny. You forget that you’re my bitch.”


Ramon rolls off Danny and to his feet. He scrounges around the skeletons as Danny instinctively tries to get to his feet. Any notion of this being a fair fight goes out the window when Ramon clocks Danny across the face with a skull, felling Toner once more.


“The man who is better than everyone else, the only guy people want to see,” Randy mockingly quotes Danny. “The man who thinks little of everybody else on the roster and thinks he can beat up whoever crosses his path. Lizzie Rose didn’t get beat up, did she? Are you going to dismiss Jason too? You should be preparing for your match against him but look where the fuck you are!”


“That’s not my fault!” Danny protests, despite the fact he is getting his ass handed to him. “It ain’t on me that I’m stuck here.”


“It ain’t on you?” Ramon scoffs. “Who the fuck is it on then? If you hadn’t have attacked Ryan, and if you hadn’t have mocked him relentlessly, he wouldn’t have fucked you off the stage. As much as I don’t like either of you, even I can tell that it takes a special kind of prick to fuck up that relationship. Well, congratu-fucking-lations, Danny! You only went and did it.”


Ramon violently knees Danny in the face before pulling him to his feet and drilling him into a pile of bones with a headlock driver. He grabs Danny’s head and grates it against a rib cage. Danny can feel the skin flay being flayed off his face as he screams in agony. Ramon eventually relents on this and picks up a forearm.


“If nobody on earth will teach you a proper lesson, I will,” Ramon threatens before snapping the forearm over his knee. He picks up the radius and the ulna, now holding a weapon in each hand. “You have literally made a career out of being the guy that hates me. With all your blustering and your smack talk, it actually becomes easy to forget about the guy you’re talking about. It becomes easy to forget about me. It’s always the Danny Toner show or the Krash Memorial.”


Danny is in a kneeling position and it takes Randy a mere moment to size him up before he begins whipping Danny all over his body with both the ulna and radius.


“What. About. Me!?” Ramon enunciates every word and strikes Danny as each leaves his mouth. “Where’s my show? Where’s my recognition? I hadn’t even sunk to the bottom of the river in Rio de Janeiro and the whole world was chanting your fucking name as you went on to win the belt you couldn’t take when I was involved.”


Randy whips Danny repeatedly, each blow harsher than the previous, until he is covered in welts and lacerations from the assault. Danny can’t feel any part of his body and would have given up in any normal fight. But this wasn’t any normal fight. This was a brawl with Randy Ramon. Granted, Danny usually ended up getting his ass handed to him by Rockstsr, but he never rolled over. If he was given thirty seconds to live and Rockstar entered the room, he’d give him everything he got right up until he took his last breath. Ramon may regularly beat the piss out of Danny, but Danny would never make it easy for him. He spits blood in Randy’s direction.


“You dirty pig!” Randy hisses. “You horrible, rotten, bastard!”


Danny has no strength left to speak and soon after, Ramon wraps a hipbone belonging to a particularly large human around his face and violently wrenches back in what can only be described as a barbaric cross-face.


“You fucking asshole! You just never know when to stop, do you? When I saw you scaling up the side of the mountain I decided I was going to end you right in this very spot,” Ramon says, finding it easy to talk trash while yanking back on Danny’s neck with the hipbone. “But where’s the fun in that? I want you to be put down like the dog you are in front of everyone. I want you to feel the embarrassment of realizing that all the shit you pedal is just that - crap. Maybe you’ll make it through this, scrape by Randall, and enter Back in Business. It’ll be the first time I have ever cheered Rondo in my life. Do you want the truth though? My money is on Randall.”


From deep within, Danny finds the fortitude to rise to his feet. Randy grabs him by his torn black tee shirt and pulls him in close - only to be met by a desperate headbutt. It staggers Randy for a couple of seconds but Danny is too weak to follow up. Randy grand the Ulna and jabs it into the soft part between collarbone and neck causing Danny to shriek in agony.


“Fuck you,” Randy declares dramatically as Danny teeters at the edge of the summit of the mountain of bones. “I hate you, forever.”


Randy takes a step back, careful not to slip on any appendage, and nails Danny with a Remix that sends him tumbling off the mountaintop and falling down into the abyss below.


0shKF9txd8CSoJDQg8rWu_CMM-jerz_Pn5HE4bN7xL9AdEkISfTo61bwf1EdPbDBukjDZL3ooxZIzCr2ki7SjAPvdCay5RhwXH-h1jILxGjhrJWgQUySqs5sq6avpZL5glf9O-HGcLoOD9EzEdzVo30


Circle VI – Heresy


A battered Danny rolls around a firebrick floor, his skin being seared any time he makes contact with the surface. Spurts of molten lava spew out of cracks in the demonic plane and the slates Danny is trying to get up from are doing nothing to help his plight. They are a poor conduct for the blistering heat below and he yelps as he uses the palm of his hand to push himself up. Danny barely has time to examine his scorched hand before a voice yells out from the ethers.


“HA-HAAAAAHH!” a sinister voice echoes, reverberating around the area.


Danny’s jaw drops as a visage of Devin Golden appears in the crimson sky above him. It is only his face - complete with the top hat, Danny briefly wonders if he is holding the cane he does not need - and it encompasses nearly the entirety of the sky. Danny looks like an ant in comparison to the giant floating head but still spreads his arms and looks up at The Rotten Gold.


“Fuckin’ bring it on!!!” Danny roars as Devin grins at him, clearly amused by the fight Danny is showing. “Your little pet Randy just beat the damn shit out of me and I’m still freakin’ standing! What’s a washed-up, self-absorbed, egomaniac like you gonna do? I don’t care if your fifty freakin’ feet tall, I’ll slap the shit out of ya like I did every goddamn chance I got! I don’t care if it’s The Golden One, Rotten Gold, or whatever kinda demon lord shit this is. I ain’t afraid of Devin Golden. You probably think this is great ya twisted fuck! You always thought you were above everyone, bigger than the FWA! You were made for this shit!”


“Yet… sooooo where youuuuu,” Devin begins. “It is true that I… declared… myself greater than the FWA. It is true that it was… my stooooory. That is why I’m the gatekeeper of heresy. But… is it not true… Danny Tooooner… that youuuuu… say much… the same? Do not cast your miiiiind towards physical punishment… the next two circles will more than caaaaaater… for thaaaaat… I was never oooooone… for physically scaring… no… I left a much… deeeeeeeper scar… I maaaaaimed you… mentally.”


Danny looks flustered but cannot deny that Devin Golden still to this day plagues his thoughts. Danny looks down at the ground in disgust - likely with himself.


“It is easy for yoooouuuuu… to chalk these up as mere… illusions from a deluded man… buuuuuut… I’m not the only ooooone… who thinks that.”


“The fuck are ya talkin’ about, ya whack-job!?” Danny says angrily. “Everyone knows you are full of shit.”


“And… sooooo,” Devin drawls. “Are… you.”


Devin cackles and his likeness fades immediately replaced by a visage of Danny’s ex-partner, the man he won his first-ever championship alongside, Christian Quinn.


“Ch-Ch-Christian? Is that you?” Danny stammers, barely able to conceal the shock in his voice. He rubs his eyes with blood-encrusted hands and shakes his head before looking at the floating head to reconfirm what he is seeing. “You’ve gotta help me man, you’ve gotta get me out of this.”


“Bail you out, you mean?” Christian poses the question like a hunter notching an arrow in their bow. He smirks at Toner. “I’ve done that for long enough. I’ve carried you through a lot of shit. More than people realize. Even if I wasn’t standing on the apron waiting for you to tag me in or pulling you kicking and screaming to the tag team championships, I’ve been there. Behind so many of your biggest victories, I was the invisible hand, I was your crutch to lean on, and I was what propped you up. I didn’t always get the recognition. Hell, I rarely get mentioned when Danny Toner is brought up, but truth be told, I’m the reason for a lot of your success. No matter what you went through or what obstacles you faced, I was always there. Where were you? What did you do when Randy Ramon snapped my leg? What did you do when Chris Peacock snapped the other? You sat idly by and only made a move when it suited you. If it had have been the other way around, I’d have been out there screaming - no, demanding - blood. You are Danny fucking Toner and I’m simply a footnote. However, we both know the truth: if I didn’t exist, if it wasn’t for all my donkey work… you’d be nothing.”


Before Danny can respond, Christian’s head fades and is replaced by a far more aesthetically pleasing one. The head of Ayla El.


“He’s right, you know,” Ayla begins, earnestly speaking from the heart. “These aren’t mind games, Danny. These are cold hard facts. You weren’t ever the one we feared. You weren’t ever the threat. RevElution’s reign was in jeopardy many times and granted, you were part of TNT, you were part of Executive Excellence, you were part of the teams that threatened us most, but… you dragged the teams down. It was Christian Quinn that hit harder and made EE what they were, you were simply there as some sloppy backup. It was Marcus Thane that struck fear into our hearts and made us think TnT could take the gold from us. Christian and Marcus caused us sleepless nights, not you.”


“But,” Danny begins a sentence but does not get much further than that before he views the head of Alya being replaced by the masked Konchu Hao.


“Danny, Danny, Danny. You conniving little charlatan,” Konchu mocks. “Isn’t it time you told people the truth? Isn’t it time we pulled back the curtain? Fallout 004, Christiana, semi-finals of the eliminator. Do I need to say more? Your face tells me I need not, but, alas, I will. Not one person in their right mind thinks you deserved to escape with the win. No wrestling reporter present felt like you were the better man. The thought that you actually bested me crossed absolutely nobody's mind, we both know the best man lost that night. For all your hullabaloo about being the best in the world, you sure didn’t show it that night. You got lucky. Everyone knows it. It shook e been me going on to the final but instead, you stole that from under my very nose. I’ve never had to dance with you again, and just as well, because frankly, your web of lies and deceit would come crashing down upon you and everyone would finally see you for what you truly are. KEHEHEHEHE-HA-HAAAAAAHHHHH!!!”


Danny completely freaks out, his face contorting in a confused rage as Konchu Hao’s face blends into that of Devin Goldens like a DJ fading one song into the next. Danny throws his hands over his face and shakes his head furiously, trying to drown everything out. When he eventually looks up, he is crestfallen to see the floating head of Golden still in the air.


“You see, Danny,” Golden chuckles. “Youuuuu… aren’t all… thaaaat. You aren’t infallible. You’ve been carried. You’ve been dismissed. You’ve been… luuuuuucky. Yet still, you walk around the FWA like you’re… bigger than the whole organization. You… thiiiiiiink you can do and say… what you want… without repercussion… based on name power alone. You’ve made a wiiiiild evaluation… of yourself. You think that you are… better. Beyond. Above. Square it whatever waaaaaaay… you think you are the true god aaaaaaaannd… that… that makes your heresy more poignant… thaaaann… mine.”


Danny can do little but look away from the searching stare of Devin, and do nothing aside from try and ignore the floating head in front of him.


“Sayonara, Daniel,” Devin concludes. “Forget this if you wiiiiisssh… but you will never… forget. I will always… be… in your head. Maybe one day, you will be siempre.”


Just like that… he is gone… just like the ground on which Danny stood.


0shKF9txd8CSoJDQg8rWu_CMM-jerz_Pn5HE4bN7xL9AdEkISfTo61bwf1EdPbDBukjDZL3ooxZIzCr2ki7SjAPvdCay5RhwXH-h1jILxGjhrJWgQUySqs5sq6avpZL5glf9O-HGcLoOD9EzEdzVo30


Circle VII – Violence


With his confidence, esteem, and self-worth at an all-time low, Danny doesn’t even realize the gravity of the situation he finds himself in as he enters the seventh circle of Hell. His thoughts are completely preoccupied with the thoughts of what others think about him. He always prided himself in blocking out the haters, not placing stock in the words of others, but the cutting verbal onslaught he had received in heresy had touched his core. He was good, perhaps even great, of that he still had little doubt. But did he really reach beyond that? Was he really the best of all time? Was he even the best now? Surely the best wrestler in the world wouldn’t be rolled up by Lizzie Rose. Surely the best wrestler in the world wouldn’t be actually nervous about a match with Jason Randall. These are match-ups that Danny should be winning yet, he’d already lost one and he feared that if he were to survive the next few circles and his encounter with the devil… he may lose another.


It may seem redundant to be thinking about a match with Jason Randall as he traversed through the depths of Hell, but that was just the way Danny was wired. He had a love for wrestling, a love for fighting… it wasn’t natural to him, it wasn’t borne out of being a student of the game, or a childhood fascination, but ever since he stepped between those ropes for the first time, he was addicted. For the first time he looks up into the demonically dark sky in the circle he finds himself in and as if on queue, lightning strikes the ground in front of him, and ‘Black Jesus’ Alyster Black descends down from the sky atop a massive crow, flocked by a murder of regular sized ones. He hops down right in front of Danny with lightning forks illuminating the sky above the crows. Danny looks at these rather than his new companion.


“Oi! Look at me you fucking cunt!” shouts Alyster Black, a look of confusion on his face. “The fuck is wrong with you? You’re after rocking up to violence, staring me in the face, and not even flinching. No shock, no terror, no smarmy sense of superiority. You feeling okay, Toner? The fuck has gotten into you?”


“I just…” Danny trails off. “I don’t know. I don’t know if I even care anymore. About this. About Randall. About anything.”


“The fuck? I know you’ve gotten your rocks off by stealing gimmicks lately but this sad boy, depressed act really doesn’t suit you. Who do you think you are? Me?”


“It ain’t like that, man. I’m just coming to terms with the fact that maybe I ain’t all that. People think I’m just chattin’ shit all the time but the truth is, I genuinely believe what I say. I don’t say shit about myself that I don’t think is true. When I say I’m the hardest motherfucker on the roster, I mean it.”


“Fucking… Jesus, you’re really taking the wind out of my sails here, I was looking forward to inflicting your punishment for violence on you, especially after what you did to Violet last year but you’re making it real hard to enjoy you know? I thought you’d try and fight me or at least call me a sloppy bastard or some shit. Listen up, because I’m only saying this once - what you say about yourself is true, you are the toughest guy I’ve ever faced and though I wouldn’t say it to Chris, everyone knows you’re the real world champion. I know that shit might not mean much to you, but it means something to everybody else. You’re legit Danny and you generally make no bones about parading that fact around so what the fuck has gotten into you?”


“It’s just… I was speaking to Devin and I—”


“Oh for FUCK sake! I forgot you just came from heresy, he do that whole floating head stick with people from your past?”


“Uh, yeah… how do you know that? I thought the gatekeepers were trapped in their circle?”


“They are except for me. I can come and go freely. From here to earth.”


“So you can get out!” Danny exclaims, a renewed vigor rising within him. “How did you even end up here in the first place?”


“I rode the first bomb to hell you idiot. How do you think? Now if you’re quite done with the dumb questions and me blowing smoke up your ass, can we kindly move on? I’ve a punishment I’ve been hankering to dish out.”


“Oh,” Danny says, arching an eyebrow in a sunrises manner. “We’re still doing that, eh, bud? I thought we freakin’ like… I dunno, bonded or some shit. Found some common ground.”


“Fuck no!” Alyster says with meaning. “The only thing we have in common is that we’ve both been friends with Chris. I fucking hate you, you piece of shit.”


“Yeah…” Danny resigns after a few moments. “I pretty much fucking hate you too, asshole.”


Alyster smirks and then nails Danny with a discus elbow strike, knocking him loopy. He hoists Danny up by the legs and plants him onto the ground with a spinebuster. When Danny hits the ground, it suddenly turns to millions of shards of broken glass.


“You motherfucker!” Danny squeals. “I fucking hate glass!!!”


Alyster chuckles gleefully as he pins Danny’s arms down with his knees, forcing the shards of glass to dig deeper into his back. He picks up a particularly sinister shard of glass that's edges glisten in the hell light. Danny screams as Alyster juts the glass into his chest and begins carving, blood spewing all over his ecstatic face. After a while, Danny numbs to the pain somewhat and just lies there whimpering. Finally, Alyster relents, and sits back admiring his handiwork.


“Beautiful…” he muses, as the floor of glass parts like the Red Sea and Danny finds himself plummeting further into the depths of Hell.


0shKF9txd8CSoJDQg8rWu_CMM-jerz_Pn5HE4bN7xL9AdEkISfTo61bwf1EdPbDBukjDZL3ooxZIzCr2ki7SjAPvdCay5RhwXH-h1jILxGjhrJWgQUySqs5sq6avpZL5glf9O-HGcLoOD9EzEdzVo30


Circle VIII – Fraud


Danny trashes against the restraints that are holding him down on an old-school, wooden, torture rack. He can see the worry on his own face as somebody had placed a full-length mirror on the ceiling directly above him. This was the first time he had entered a circle and immediately found himself bound or indisposed. After a few minutes of a futile escape attempt, Danny stops trying to break the restraints and instead looks at himself in the mirror. The first thing to catch his eye is quite obviously the still oozing “CUNT” that Alyster Black had etched into his chest with the shard of glass in the circle of violence. But then he notices finer details; the black bags under his bloodshot eyes that were no doubt present due to Sully’s force-feeding him of drugs and alcohol, the caked-in blood around his ear drums from when Kennedy burst his ears with the drum-and-bass music, and of course, the puncture wound in the soft part of the flesh beside his collarbone where Ramon had punctured it with a snapped skeletal bone. These were the visible wounds and the mental draining from Golden and Montgomery had arguably done more damage to Danny’s well-being and psyche than the physical punishments had done to his exterior.


“Welcome to fraud,” sneers an unpleasant voice. Danny is able to lift his head up just enough to see the speaker in question; a huge mixed-race man, that had a decidedly pervy and creepy look about him. A man Danny knew but wished he didn’t. Likely the same thing everyone that knew him would say about the man. Despite the ordeal he had endured, and the very exposed position he was now in, Danny still harbored enough ill will towards the man to hock up phlegm and spit it in the direction of Michael Garcia.


“Fuck you, Garcia,” Danny begins boldly. “I don’t give a fuck if you’re a gatekeeper or if this is your realm, I ain’t doin’ jack-shit that you tell me to, you piece of shit.”


“I get why people would hate me,” Garcia allows. “Really, I do. I understand why most people don’t like me. You, however? You… I don’t understand. How can someone that has done the things you have done stand there - well, I guess lying there is more appropriate - and actually with any sincerity judge or scold me for what I have done? It makes no sense.”


“You’re a cheat, Garcia,” Danny states matter-of-factly, renewing his efforts to break the bonds so that he can slap the stupid smirk off Garcia’s face. “You spit in the face of all of us that work their asses off to get to where we are. What’s worse is that you got the ultimate reward for doing so. Shit ain’t freakin’ right.”


“It is true I committed the greatest of frauds. That, in part, is why I am the gatekeeper of fraud. But… I have paid for my sin. I have been stricken from every record book in history and black-balled in the industry. I could not find work no matter what I said or did, yet, you rode to the very top of the mountain and are heralded as one of the greatest to ever set foot in the ring. Who are you to judge me? You’re just as bad as me?”


“I’ve done a lot of shady freakin’ shit, I’ll give ya that, Mike, but I sure as hell never cheated. That’s a fact.”


“Is it? Is it really? Forgive me if I’m mistaken but your most highly regarded feud is with Golden Rock, no?”


“And? What’s your point?”


“My point is that throughout that whole feud, you had to use sneak tactics, surprise attacks, and hide your better half with a fuckin’ mask just to land a shot on Golden Rock. What about Grouse Mountain? You called in a literal giant unbeknownst to The Nephews to give you the edge. What about all the deception and mind games you play with your opponents on a regular basis? What about using Executive Excellence to further your gain? You may think calling you a cheat is extreme, but at the very least you are a con man and a fraudster, and frankly, I think calling you just that is a cop-out. I had the ear of the powers that be for a period of time, as you very well know. I’ve heard the stories. I know about your politicking and currying favor behind the backs of everyone. I know about your relaxed schedule leading up to Carnal Contendership last year and then how you got an easy ride en route to Back in Business. You’ve gamed the system and gotten away with it countless times, taken a paycheck and showed up and basically thrown matches because you knew you’d have another path to what you wanted. You’re good at being deceptive Danny, you’re good at getting away with things, you’re good at cheating. You use that silver tongue of yours to get what you want and to get out of any sticky situations. You’ve been blessed with the ability to talk and you have absolutely no shame in using it to get ahead of more deserving people, people that have worked harder, people that deserve more. There’s very little difference between Michael Garcia and Danny Toner when you pull back the curtain. In fact, the only difference between us is that I own who I am. You even lie to yourself.”


“I don’t… I mean… but you…” Danny falters. Maybe it’s the mirror suspended above the torture rack that is forcing him to really look at himself and be honest, but when he tries to counter what Garcia has said he finds that he really hasn’t got an answer for it. He can’t completely deny what is being said about him. In fact, had he not been powerbombed to Hell, he probably would have been spending the time partying and looking for a way out of the match with Randall or considering throwing it to be fresh for what was nearly certainly going to be a Back in Business date with Ryan Rondo. He tries to justify his actions to himself but finds that if he is being completely honest, he can’t. So he simply says nothing.


“What’s wrong, Danny?” Garcia laughs mockingly. “Cat got your tongue?”


Garcia wraps a mammoth-sized hand around Danny’s throat and squeezes tightly. As Danny gasps for air, Garcia uses his free hand to grab hold of Danny’s tongue.


“Nope, it’s still there,” Garcia says evilly. “Good, because if it wasn’t, I wouldn’t be able to carry out your punishment for fraud.”


Danny’s eyes widen and he gargles unintelligibly, a cacophony of noise that cannot be deciphered coming from his mouth. His eyes nearly pop out of his head and the garbling doubles when Garcia lifts up a white-hot pincers. Danny realizes now that the mirror is there not for self-reflection, but so that Danny would be forced to watch his grim punishment.


“Danny Toner,” Garcia declares as if he were a judge ordering a prison sentence. “You have been found guilty of multiple counts of fraud, and as the gatekeeper of fraud, I am tasked with carrying out your punishment. Your acerbic tongue was the weapon you used to commit your sin and as such, I see it fit that I take away your weapon so no more filthy lies can spill out of your ugly, dirty mouth.”


Danny makes an otherworldly sound, a cross between a scream and a shout, but it is to no avail as Garcia relishes in taking the pincers to Danny’s tongue… and reefing it clean out of his mouth. The last thing Danny sees before he passes out is Garcia staring in fascination at his bloody mutilated tongue.


0shKF9txd8CSoJDQg8rWu_CMM-jerz_Pn5HE4bN7xL9AdEkISfTo61bwf1EdPbDBukjDZL3ooxZIzCr2ki7SjAPvdCay5RhwXH-h1jILxGjhrJWgQUySqs5sq6avpZL5glf9O-HGcLoOD9EzEdzVo30


Circle IX – Treachery


Danny wakes up in an infirmary bed and immediately breathes a sigh of relief as he sees a nurse hunched over a sink to his right. As his head lies resting on a comfortable, plump, pillow he replays the events of his nightmare in his head. It had been quite an unbelievable dream, it had felt so real even though it was surreal in nature. Being in a hospital wasn’t his ideal outcome but he figured he must’ve taken some damage from the Rondo powerbomb and hey, at least it wasn’t Hell. Danny laughs aloud but stops instantly at the extremely strange sound that emits from his mouth. His facial muscles feel the way they do when he generally laughs but the sound that comes out is a foreign one and really doesn’t sound like any laughter Danny had ever heard. The noise causes the nurse to turn around and Danny is perplexed when he sees Kayden Knox in a full nurse outfit turn around and look at him.


“-----?” Danny tries to call Kayden by name but finds he cannot say anything. Kayden walks over to him and rubs some cold ointment on his chest. Danny looks down and horror sets in as he sees the word “CUNT” carved into his chest. He is still in Hell.


“Try not to say much, Danny,” suggests Knox, applying more of the gel-like substance to his chest. “I mean… not that you can but I mean try not to exert yourself. You’re in the ninth circle, you’re in treachery, this means you’re nearly there. You’re so close to finishing. I can’t have you dropping out of this thing last second. Though, I guess that would be fitting.”


Danny stares at Kayden, unable to speak. There is something different about Kayden, not just the nurse's outfit that he is admittedly rocking quite well, but just about his general demeanor. He looks sad. Tormented even.


“I am the gatekeeper of treachery, Danny. It pains me to say it, truly it does, but my betrayal of Gabrielle resigned me to this fate, and I can’t say that I don’t deserve it, I mean… she gave me so damn much. She put everything she had in the last leg of her career into making me something and I… I curb-stomped her into oblivion. I didn’t want to do it, truly, I didn’t… but I had to. I had no choice. She was my partner, my rock, the one person who put all their faith into me and guided me to glory, and I… I just turned traitor and put her out of the game permanently. Though, if you’ve got this far, you already know that. You’ve already spoken with her.”


Danny nods his head slowly as it begins to dawn on him that with the exception of Alyster - who can seemingly come and go from Hell as he pleases - every gatekeeper he met has been someone that is no longer with the FWA. It’s nearly as if Hell is the destination for all of those after their time in FWA comes to an end. It’s nearly like this is the damned fate of all those who pass through FWA. Danny wonders if it is inevitable. If simply being in the FWA will cause people to commit one of the many sins that can see them end up here.


“You might be racking your brain, thinking of what treasonous act you may have committed,” Kayden suggests as he turns to look at Danny, an angry glare across his face. “It really shouldn’t be that hard Danny. I WAS ONE OF THE FUCKING PEOPLE YOU BETRAYED!!!”


As Kayden’s voice roars, the room contorts and Danny finds himself standing in the middle of a blazing inferno, face to face with an enraged Kayden Knox.


“I LEARNED IT FROM YOU! You were meant to be my leader, our leader, you were meant to teach me and guide me. The only thing you taught me was how to be a treacherous turncoat that only looks out for himself. We had so many plans, Danny. So many ideas. We had planned the reformation of Executive Excellence for weeks and yet, as soon as it suited you, as soon as we lost some of the gold we had worked so hard at your behest to obtain, you turned your back on us and pulled the plug on the whole damn thing. You left us to rot. You left Parr in the lurch. You caused me to end up turning on Gabrielle. Gabrielle who was innocent in all this. Gabrielle who had mentored you when you were the up-and-comer of Executive Excellence. What did she do to deserve that? What did any of us do to deserve that? We did everything you wanted, no matter what it entailed, because we believed in you. We believed you could truly shake up the FWA and lead us all to greener pastures. You turned your back on your group, your friends, your brothers. It’s not the only time you did it. In fact, you’re doing it right now. You’re doing it again. You’re turning your back on everyone that has given everything to support you. You are the traitor Danny Toner. You fucking deserve this.”


Before Danny can begin to wonder what exactly he deserves, he feels a sharp, stabbing pain in the small of his back. Danny doesn’t have the chance to even grimace in pain before he feels another stab, again in the back. He looks up at Kayden, making a silent plea for help with his eyes, but Kayden just sadly shakes his head. The third stab in the back brings Danny to his knees and at this point, Kayden turns and leaves him kneeling there, blood starting to spill out of his mouth. His back gets punctured several times in a row, a flurry of violent stabbing bringing him to the ground. He has been through a lot in Hell, but Danny knew this was the end, he knew he couldn’t endure this, he didn’t know if you could actually die in Hell, but he was not going to be able to continue on. He was going to fall short just shy of his encounter with the devil. He was going to let himself down at the very last second, just as he had done to countless people throughout his life. He feels his life force draining and his strength rapidly depleting as he lies on the molten ash caused by the hurricane of fire he found himself encapsulated in. Using every last fiber of his little remaining strength, Danny uses his blistered palms to try and roll himself onto his back so he at least might see who eventually brought an end to Danny Toner. He fails at the first attempt but on the second, he manages to muster up enough to push himself onto his back. The first thing he sees is a bloody dagger being held haphazardly in the hand of a man. The second thing he sees is the face of the man holding it. Kaizen. Danny doesn’t feel anything, he doesn’t want to, he just has one burning question - why?


“You know why,” Kaizen asserts as Danny fades to black…


0shKF9txd8CSoJDQg8rWu_CMM-jerz_Pn5HE4bN7xL9AdEkISfTo61bwf1EdPbDBukjDZL3ooxZIzCr2ki7SjAPvdCay5RhwXH-h1jILxGjhrJWgQUySqs5sq6avpZL5glf9O-HGcLoOD9EzEdzVo30


Center of Hell


GO!!!


IF YOU CLOSE YOUR EYES


YOUR LIFE!


A NAKED TRUTH REVEALED


Danny blinks a couple of times and finds himself staring at blinding lights as Ryan Rondo’s theme music blares over the speaker system in Estadio Olímpico Benito Juárez. Danny lies in the rubble around him, production crates destroyed by the impact of his entire weight crashing into them after being tossed from the height by Ryan Rondo. The theme music eventually fades and soon the arena is silent. Danny stirs and forces himself to a seated position. His back is aching, and he is covered in welts from Ryan’s assault, but overall he seems to have survived the attack. A cursory glance down at his chest reveals no scarring by way of glass engravement, and Danny laughs a little when he realizes that the trip to hell was merely a figment of his imagination.


He aches as he gets to his feet and begins climbing back onto the stage. It‘s a struggle, but eventually, he finds himself atop the stage that Rondo powerbombed him off. He takes a look around the empty arena, scanning the empty seats, and thinking about what had just happened. Lizzie Rose had pinned him and Ryan Rondo had destroyed him. It was arguably the worst night of his life and the feeling was compounded by the fact that he knew he had to go face-to-face with Jason Randall, a man that had pinned him in the middle of the ring at Back in Business five years ago, on the very next set of shows. Danny notices that oddly, there is a casket set in the middle of the ring. He can think of no logical reason why it would be there and scratches his head in confusion. Shrugging, he decides some things are better left untouched, and turns his back on the ring to make his way toward the Gorilla position.


Just as he is about to pull back the curtain to slip backstage the arena turns a blood-red color and Danny begins hearing voices chanting in a whisper. It takes him a while to figure out what they are saying but eventually, he is able to decipher that it’s the word “six” being repeated over and over again. Six, six, six. Six, six, six. Six, six, six. The chants sound prayer-like and for some reason, Danny finds himself walking towards the ring. He rolls under the bottom rope and makes a beeline for the casket in the ring. He traces his finger over the orange decoration on the lid of the casket and can feel an extremely powerful, extremely evil energy coming from within. The voices still whisper: Six, six, six. Six, six, six. Six, six, six.


Danny breathes heavily and takes a moment to compose himself before ripping back the lid of the casket to reveal… a mirror. Danny stares at his own reflection for a long time before he snorts in mild laughter. Maintaining eye contact with himself his laughter turns into full-fledged cackling and if anyone could see him, they’d surely admit him on account of being loopy. Danny continues laughing and the arena grows darker still, the ground begins shaking, and the mirror cracks before his very eyes.


Danny doesn’t care about any of it though. Or what onlookers may think of him. Why would he? What had he got to worry about? Certainly not Jason Randall. There were far worse things than Jason Randall abound. After all… this is Hell.


And Danny?


Danny is the devil.
 

Death Walker

Better Known As King Of Armageddon | Trapped In Darkness
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You Can’t Stop…

“Ahhhh… the rain. The raindrops fall from the sky to put everything back to which it once was. You know some people can't stand the rain, literally and theoretically. The rain presents itself whenever and wherever it chooses. And then it decides how much rain and what type of rain is necessary to provide.”



Sitting out in the middle of nowhere… in a desert while the temporary rainstorm is happening, Death seems to be either sleeping or meditating calmly as his eyes are closed under that demon skull mask. His bare chest heaves to show signs of life while he's slouched, back against a concrete wall under a large concrete canopy as he sits there… on a concrete block. One finger firmly against the mask’s temple while the dark creature is in this focused trance and his trusted guardian is standing tall right beside him.

The Dark Guardian: “Yeah, some people can't stand… the rain. But then you have others… other people in this mad world who understand that this is supposed to happen one way or another. That try as you might… but you CANNOT… pardon my tone, My Lord, that you cannot control… the rain.”

Then, a waterproof drone pans out to give the feel and atmosphere of the two darkest beings at this remote location. It goes for an aerial 360 degree to reveal the surroundings, only to unveil a bunch of nothingness. The nearest mountains or hills appear to be hundreds of miles away, practically endless dirt and hardly any vegetation within sight. This is when The Soul Collector twitches a bit during his tranquil state. The body rests again, however not for too long as it goes back to twitching like electric currents shooting through this intimidating vessel. At the same time that Death is receiving some minor disturbances, so does the drone for which the camera glitches like it's about to malfunction. What is more surprising about this new occurrence, is that there seems to be flashes back to a memory or thought.

TDG: “Sure, you can suffer and survive it but in the end… it gets what it wants. You have to allow the rain do what it is going to do… for the purpose of nurturing and providing true growth. The rain gives as much as it may take… and really it means bo harm. It does what it does and everyone at some point… or another, have to accept it.”

Another glitch occurence takes place once more but this time, screams from both a man and a woman can be recognized from every direction. The memory appears with an unrecognizable couple trapped in wild flames. It could be Darius Wright’s parents? Could also be another couple that represents the image of his parents as a metaphor? Then as quickly as it showed up, it fades away just as fast.

TDG: “...‘It's only natural’ as people say so… carefree. Because they know that their best bet… is to prepare for rain or pray for it. You can't even outrun the rain but you can get enough cover somewhere safe. And even then, the rain manages to still catch us all in the end. The way IT wants to do things… on its own time.”

An abrupt rumbling comes from above and strands of flashing lights fill up the sky… amongst the murkiness that hangs overhead.

TDG: “Yeah, those bright and… sunny days seem heavenly, I suppose. Yet there’s still something about these rainy days that people seem to enjoy. It’s exactly like that constant battle between their grace… and sins. The day to day decisions that shape our character whether it's the decisions that we resist or the ones that we’re willing to make. Finding bad in doing good and finding good in doing bad…”

And his eyes suddenly open, he sits up… ignoring the noise from the storm and taking a wide, clear look from left to right. Then without any other indication, everything gradually becomes smothered in the color of black. Everything except for
The Dark Traveler and The Dark Guardian.

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

SOMEWHERE ELSE…

As the terrible two stand side by side in darkness, it soon lightens back up in gray haze. Everything in just one color… no ground exists… no bunker, no mountains, no hills, the rain is gone. It feels like… like they're trapped inside of a foggy fish bowl but they're remaining afloat on solid (yet invisible) ground. The Death Walker takes a step forward and-

???: “You think you know what pain is? You don't know SHIT about pain. I’ve had to watch my mother become a victim to an abusive man, my father. That’s until I got strong enough and tall enough to defend her. I’ve had family and friends end up dead in the streets or serving hard time behind bars. I didn't have time to worry about that muthafuckin’ pain. I had to keep fighting through life and then work on myself to be a better man than my worthless father. I am telling this because I refuse to let you lose or give up. So get back in there AND FIGHT! DAMN IT!”

What has happened is… difficult to put into sensible words but this is a Death Walker promo so shut the hell up and follow along. The open round space is covered in a complete 360 degree video clip that both Walker and his guardian are in the middle of. The somewhat familiar voice is… Darius Wright’s trainer, his coach that helped to build the machine that was he. There's no doubt that the memory is during one of his first brawls, right in between rounds. Being elusive towards anyone close to Darius's life, the face of his coach stays hidden in black (and no, the coach is not The Dark Guardian… well then again maybe but we'll really find out who he is later on the career path. Back to the promo!). The video glitches just like drone earlier, it’s as if it has been put on pause or ended.

TDG: “So what is this about?! Couldn't get enough of Darius's memories, My Lord? Are you losing your focus on the big objectives?”

“N- n- noOOOooo n- not exactly. I… I am… am doooooOOoing-”

TDG: “Are you alright? We might not be doctors or miracle workers but we tend to help when it bene-.”

Death turns around to The Dark Guardian and taps him on the shoulder to gain his attention.

“It's me, you asshole! Your Death Walker.”

TDG: “Wait… it was already weird enough but how the fuck… are you talking without it coming from your mouth?”

DW: “It would seem that we have been pulled into my mind and this is my conscious speaking for me.”

TDG: “Usually I can pick up on what you're thinking so why are we even here?”

DW: “My best guess is that I was having a deep thought when my mind and the world collided into one another. So here we are, further in the mind of tHe MoNsTeR. Oooohhh BEWARE OF THE MADNESS IN MY HEAD, anything is possible…”

They have a moment to laugh before being serious.

TDG: “Ok, My Lord, could you return us back to the group and the bunker and the rain and…”

DW: “Seeing how I’ve been trying for the last 10 minutes, I would say that I’m working that part out.”

TDG: “Why are we even here looking at this crusty old dirtbag?”

DW: “Hey don't piss me off. We’ve just been able to communicate better than we have been and you're squandering it by being a rude muthafucka. Now let's evaluate the situation first then make moves to fix it, shall we?”

TDG: “You're right, My Lord, I apologize for my crass behavior. Let's see what is going on. Hmmm.”

Back to back, these individuals look all over the orb, looking for a way out.

DW: “Dark Guardian? I remember thinking back… to Darius's memories for whatever reason and I was listening to you talk to me while the rain played its greatest hits. Maybe… just maybe there's something that isn't related to this particular memory. I mean I’m improving in the ring, made my own family, settled a few of my loose ends, grasped the upper hand as well as doing extraordinary as a creep without a voice. Which I can't tell you how much I miss being able to speak.”

TDG: “Try not to worry about your voice, I’m sure it'll be returning sooner or later. Besides you know that we’ve been sharing our thoughts and mind since your return from HELL. Just like TWINS!”

Death rolls his eyes at the obnoxiousness joke from his only confidant.

DW: “I think I figured this out… if I recall right, Darius was… catching a heavy beatdown after 2 rounds… with an overgrown grizzly lookin’ goof. The pain I- he felt… it was sharp and twisting, almost like… like someone kept stabbing in the same area. Not to mention, every muscle in his arms and legs felt like they were being weighed down with sandbags...”

Just then, the video and audio starts playing like it was before it stopped.

Coach: “Come on, get on up! Get right in there, all you gotta do is…”

After some pointers given to his top pupil, the video blinks and the sound is replaced by a mighty roar from a huge storm brewing. The visuals get scrambled during the playback, making it unclear how the rest of this memory turns out. Death Walker stares out at the sphere’s fog…

DW: “I see it's time to go now, we have to finish the other matters.”

TDG: “Hmmm… XYZ & Jason Randall?”

DW: “That and some more shit, that X Championship, the Golden Opportunity and whomever stands in our way, etc.”

TDG: “It’s been fun, especially the old verbal exchanges… It almost reminds me of how Darius Wright used to snap back at me.”

DW: “Look, dipshit, the name is Death Walker. Yes, The Death Walker, collector of souls, a dark travelin’ son of a b- Well, you get what I mean.”

Death Walker looks back at his devilish advisor and happily nods.

TDG: “Ay real quick, tell me what advice did the old man give you when you got back to your feet.”

DW: “Besides the usual rah rah speech… ‘fight through the pain’... ‘I know you got that dog in you’... ‘the fight ain't over’... he gave me the right keys… to survive through anything. In fact, he said-... he said…”

The entire space around the both of them expands into the color of black. Leaving a lot of nervous imaginations to slightly panic while seeing nothing in any direction.

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

However from above, they can hear the rumblings of thunder and see the flashes from the lightning. A high pitched noise comes wailing by both dark individuals and promptly the rain and its sounds happen like nothing had changed.
BACK TO REALITY?!??

TDG: “We’re back, My Lord. Are you just about ready?”

Death Walker shakes his head and takes more time to meditate while The Dark Guardian goes into conversation.

TDG: “Okay, take your time… I know that you're willing to go through great lengths to harm these two men. But after you’re done with them, will this be enough to place you on the road to success?”

Death nods his head, does a few stretches then does a one-handed handstand before going into the bunker. The Dark Traveler lowers the mechanical fortified door and enters the dark space inside. The Dark Guardian follows at the side of Death Walker as they walk through and the door closes behind them. There's a wide spotlight for both of them to step into so they do.

TDG: “Our Lord would like for all of you to know that we have all the tools to carve out our path. The reason that we have the right tools is because we have all of you. The Terrors of Darkness, the misguided and forgotten children. And as the children to Death Walker, we have and will proceed to train each of you on how to protect us and others. TO PROTECT THIS FAMILY! And if necessary, protect Our Lord. Join us as we create our Reality of Tragedy!”

A snappy fade to black… as the red words “To Be Continued…” fades right in the center of the frame.

 
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weaselperson

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weaselperson vol 5.
weaselperson.

vol 5

“Whether or not I respect Chris Peacock doesn’t matter. He’s a World Champion. I know there’s been a lot of World Champions lately, but that doesn’t make him any less credible. Besides, the difference between him and all the other ones is, he’s still got the belt.”

weaselperson stops midway through the hallways of the Toyota Center. He glances at the television set. No one else is looking at him, that's what gives it away that there's something worth watching. Usually, the costume secures attention. On the TV, they're showing an interview, somewhere backstage.
It's Katie Baxter and a man in an oversized dragon costume. A dragonperson.
The costumed man rants and rawrs. weaselperson snorts. A bit too loud; others take notice. He glances once at them and leaves.
"Ayo, Zachary."
He stops again. He turns to see Jon Russnow grinning, and heading his way. He says nothing, and watches the man approach him.
"You gonna go after him right?"
"After who?"
"Alyster Black. dragonperson. That was him mocking you, man. You want the BIB match don't you? I don't want to encourage my talent fighting, but you gotta show him how serious you are. Get people talking. Force my hand!"
"That wasn't him mocking me. It was him acknowledging me."
"No, no, no. Acknowledging? Come on, WP. You gotta go after him now. Or you get yourself a nice White Jesus costume on Fallout, eye for an eye. Start throwing out some cunts too." Russnow tenses, and looks over his shoulder, and eases up seeing no one.
"No. That's not my thing."
"You mean it wasn't Zachary Kazadi's thing? I see you walking up and down this arena on nights you're not even wrestling, dressed as weaselperson. Suppose weaselperson doesn't have the same values as Zachary Kazadi? Suppose weaselperson shows Alyster what's up."
"That's not necessary. If I can make Danny Toner tap out the way I did Cyrus Truth, then I won't need to get theatrical to get Alyster's attention. I'll focus on that."
"Damn. Here I thought the costume would liven you up."
"Is that everything?"
"What, you're in a rush?"
weaselperson said nothing.
"Fine, fine. Whatever. Go."

“It’s a chance to send a message to Alyster, but at the same time, that can’t be at the forefront of my mind. He’s the World Champion. I know Alyster is the endgame, but I can’t look that far ahead. That’s how I lose. Chris Peacock, on paper, he’s the best in the FWA. I couldn’t beat Danny Toner. But if I can beat Chris Peacock, then I can live with losing to Danny.”

They're going to be in Texas for a while. weaselperson wasn't a fan. He'd wrestled here a lot, almost a decade ago now when he'd spent some time in Mexico. They had him going up North every now and then since he was a known name in the American circuit. They were the hardest crowds to ignore.
He's got Danny Toner next. He's been going hard on pissing off everyone. Hard to say if it'll make it more or less distracting to wrestle the match. No, there's more to it than that. The truth is, you miss it too, don't you? You pretend not to hear the crowd, but the jeers reached you. They gave you that same twisted enjoyment the others get. The Danny Toners and Shawn Summers. It makes you feel like you're fighting against the world. Fighting against someone who's fighting against the world is tough. Especially when you don't actually have the world backing you.
You gave all that up. All that hatred they had for you.
Now you get barks. And 'weaselperson' though it's never any well coordinated and it never feels as good as the jeers.
You arrived in your costume. Smelling of pine, despite the allegations against the stench of your costume. Thank you, Wanda.
The first match didn't hold his interest, but he did his duty and watched. His disdain for tag team wrestling was hard to keep down. His disdain for inconsequential six-man tags was even harder. But he wanted to support his peers, so he watched.
The Nephews were the winners. The trio must've had less than a dozen professional matches. They could fight though, and they fought well enough.
An ad plays. weaselperson reads a book to bide the time.
Then Sonne hits.
Alyster Black's here again. Tonight. Guess he was still in Texas, might as well drop by. And for all his claims of hating the FWA, he must love wrestling too much to stay away.
weaselperson watches, attentive though not wanting to be. He grits his teeth when he hears Alyster speak. At least, they don't seem to believe it. Neither commentators nor fans. That saves him some work. He had no intention of going out of his way to deny the claims that he was dragonperson.
There's a more vital part to Alyster's message though. weaselperson means nothing to Alyster Black.
Lethal. But that's how Alyster Black is. Bold. Bold and boisterous, and very lethal. And with his own penchant for mind games. You've done your research. You know all about the Leather Boys. All those long cons. Should’ve expected it.
You sought Alyster Black out because he's a dangerous man. But you took that danger to be what he could do in the ring. Or around the ring, to be more accurate. You forgot that he's also dangerous because honor means very little to him. That's a tough type to deal with.
Underestimation, and dismissal? These aren't new to you. You know how to handle them well. Or you used to know how to handle them well. But then look what happened with Mike Parr and WOLF. You prefer not to think about that time. You were a different man, then. No. Not only because you weren't weaselperson. You were the BE- ah, forget about it.
The fact is, you can't do the same things you did back then. People might remember how that story ended. Actually, no, they won't. Most people don't remember you. Not the you that did things. Especially since most of the things you did aren't all that relevant now. X Champion? You're talking about him in relation to Alyster Black here. 2nd place in the Quest for the Best. 2nd place in the Carnal Contendership. No one gives a shit about second place.
The truth is, they only recall the reputation you had. You were whiny. You made people tap out now and then. Which was cool. But you also seemed to have a knack for cracking under pressure, which was less cool.
But the win over Truth, that helps erase all that past. Especially it being a submission victory. Wouldn't have helped much if you'd scraped your way to the win. That's how you used to do it. Roll-ups and whatnot. You hated yourself for it. weaselperson wouldn't win by roll-ups. At least, not this weaselperson. And this was the only weaselperson that mattered.
Alyster keeps talking, but true to his word, he has nothing more to say of weaselperson. He rants about the disrespect he feels. He rawrs about everything he's done. He disparages Cyrus Truth.
You have a hard time disagreeing with the bit about Cyrus Truth, but the rest? The rest is cheap. What does it serve? What's his point? What does he want? Is it the jeers? The jeers are fun, that's true. And Alyster, he doesn't like when he's liked. That's also true. Is that all it is? Riling people up?
You're not getting that Back in Business main event, no matter how much you complain. You gotta be angling for something else. But there's nothing else. There's only me. There's only weaselperson. And when I beat Danny Toner, you'll know that this is the best you could've hoped for. When I beat Danny Toner, and after I've tapped out Cyrus Truth, you'll know I'm your key to being back on top. Plus, you need this. You need to see what I can do. Because we've got a date, somewhere down the line, in a Roulette. And you know I'm the most dangerous one there. And you don't want to fuck that up. You don't want to let this surest of golden opportunities slip through your fingers. Not because you underestimated me. And you know better than to underestimate me. You're no idiot. You saw what I did to Truth. You felt me end your dreams at CC. You know you've got no choice. You need to see how dangerous I am. You will accept this. So what's all this extra shit for?

“And it’s not just a message to Alyster. It’s a message to Chris himself. He sees himself walking out of Back in Business still a World Champion. Everyone can see that he doesn’t see any other future for himself than that. And if that’s the case, then he should start getting ready for what’s going to come after. He’s quite familiar with the Golden Opportunity. And he knows that just like he did, I don’t intend on taking a shortcut. If Peacock is Champion after the night of the Anniversary Show, he knows what’s next. I know he’ll know what’s next because tonight I’m going to show him. Just like I showed Cyrus.”

weaselperson keeps watching. That's his duty. That's what he owes the rest of the roster. Though Alyster Black threatens to dominate his thoughts, he knows better. Acknowledges it. Let's go. Mindfulness at work.
He's got a match later. Danny Toner. Danny beat the World Champion a cycle ago. He never lost that World Championship to begin with. Danny, for all intents and purposes, was the best wrestler in this company. Once, you could see the insecurity rising over the top. And you thought, yeah, he isn't much. Too hot-tempered. Full of smoke. You've met plenty of guys like that. Easiest guys to deal with.
Seven years had passed. Or six. Those years were long. And this Danny Toner, he wasn't the same man you once fought. No more insecurity. Must've been that World Championship reign. Some people get imposter syndrome, some people get validation. The validation they long sought and craved. Now he had unwavering self-belief. That's the Danny Toner he's dealing with. A very dangerous Danny Toner.
You've prepared as best as you can though. There won't be any last-minute revelation. No clear-cut weak point would come to mind. Unless you wanted to invoke the name of the Last Star. And you didn't want mind games to be how you won. No, that's not what you'd prided yourself on. You prided yourself on clean victories. Whatever a clean victory meant. The lines were never as clear as you liked to pretend.
The next match is a helpful distraction. As much as Summers and Parr were. You knew you wouldn't get your hands on Summers anytime soon. The man's an eel. And Parr. You wanted another shot at him. A real shot. You were still better than him. The FWA had changed a lot. New names. Lots of new names. But a few stuck around. Cyrus. You'd dealt with that. And Parr. But Parr, he hadn't taken a single step forward, had he? All he had to his name were the petty grudges and plots he'd conspired. But if he could beat the bastard. The other bastard. The one with the gold. Well, if he could beat the bastard, then that set the stage perfectly for their reunion. No WOLF, sure, but he was always superfluous, to begin with. Just you. Parr. And that gold you’d once sought. A gold you had a feeling would become very important.
Peacock is out to watch the match too. He hadn't been out when weaselperson faced Truth. That would've been something to watch. Jean-Luc insinuates Truth tapped out to preserve himself. weaselperson sneers. Of course, gotta protect Truth. He'd heard nothing Alyster had said earlier that night, had he? Jean-Luc had never been a man of any integrity. weaselperson could say that, given their past exchanges. But he passes himself off as the wrestling intellect on the commentary team, and that's what he says?
Peacock talks about Truth the way you expect him to. Dismissive. Condescending. Trophy victory. Everyone sees it. Everyone's seen it since Carnal Contendership. Since before that. The Journey's End lands and Truth wins, but no one's impressed. This is the bare minimum. This is what he should've done to you. But didn't.
How do you react to that Truth? That dismissal. You've been around for a long time. Longer than anyone else here. You've faced guys like Peacock before, haven't you? Actually, more lately than ever, I bet. Guys that see you as part of the furniture. But nothing more. Not a living breathing person. But something that serves a fixed, modest purpose. A purpose everyone is fond of but doesn't appreciate all that much. They glance past you. They underestimate you. They dismiss you. How do you deal with that? I could use some advice.

“The thing that I most admire about Chris is that, he doesn’t give up. I mean, I look at him, and I see a man that’s as fragile as I am. As Danny once was. He looks like he’s ready to crack at the slightest pressure. And I know he has in the past. But what separates Chris and me. And even Chris and Danny, it’s that he never really left. He stuck to it. He came short so often. I came short twice and it destroyed me. Look how many times he fell short. I talk about Danny always coming back. But Peacock is another level of masochism. He’s a hard worker. He’s determined. I respect that. But I’ve grown a thicker skin. And I know I’m good. I know I’m better than him. I won’t let a loss bring me down again. I’m here to stay. I’m here to beat the best. I’m the next one up.”

The rest of the show doesn't do anything to get his mind off his meeting with Danny Toner. The bear might've, but by then, he had to head to the ring. He didn't get a chance to share the panic the rest of everyone backstage was having.
The guitar strums, and weaselperson steps through the curtains. The aggressive and jarring rapping echoes. It drowns most of the crowd. They don't cheer much. Or jeer much. They didn't care for him. They cared even less for him than they used to. Both when weaselperson was a different weaselperson, and when he was Kazadi.
He was more passive now. Crowds wanted showstoppers. Or people who derided them. weaselperson did neither. He barked. He made challenges. He wrestled. That didn't sell tickets.
Greenback Boogie hits. The crowd's loud. Real loud. They love him, and they hate him, all at once. That's the type of man Danny Toner is. He could get them to jump the barricades to try to rip his head off if he wanted to. Or he could get them to jump the barricades and to try to rip weaselperson's head off. That's what Danny Toner drew out of people.
He beat Chris Peacock. The World Champion. He never lost the World Championship. If you beat him. Not beat him, but tap him out. If you tap him out, what does that make you? It makes you the man everyone else will want to beat. It's the best thing you could hope for, short of having the World Championship. That'll come though. It will. Think about it later.
Now? Now you've got this man. The man you need to beat - tap out - to achieve that.
Danny meets your eyes. And you're happy. You're real happy. A bit nervous. You're not usually nervous. You weren't usually nervous. And after tapping out Truth, you thought all the nerves were gone gone. But then Danny versus weaselperson got announced, and they were back. You hated it. A part of you is afraid of Danny Toner? You hate to think about it. That scared, fragile man from so long ago. You were afraid of him?
But you see his eyes, and you know he knows you're not something one looks past. Much as Alyster wants to play his games, Danny doesn't have that luxury. He's gotta take you for what you are. And in those eyes of the best, those eyes that recognize you as a peer, you feel yourself again.
Or did you read too much into it? He has you in a headlock, and he yells out wrestling in mockery. Headlock takeover. Since when does Danny do headlock takeovers? Should've watched more tapes. No, that's because he got in your head. That's what he does. Ignore all that. Danny Toner will not outwrestle you. This is your game, and he's an idiot for taking you at your game.
Danny hits a few roll-ups. You won't lose by roll-up. You hate losing by roll-ups. As much as you hate roll-ups themselves. Imagine losing this main event by a roll-up. That's Danny Toner. He'll win in whatever way he can, won't he? You gotta be ready for roll-ups.
You follow him outside. You regret it almost immediately. You knew it was a bad idea when you did it. Danny's one of the best outside. But there's one person who's better. The very same person you're trying to get a fight with. You gotta go outside and give Danny a fight. Show him you know every square inch of not only the wrestling ring but everything surrounding it.
Even so, that was a bad idea. You get your face kicked in, and stomped in. And the match is getting away from you.
He throws you around. He throws you around enough times, he lives up to those claims of being a heavyweight. Need a breather, but he's not giving it to you. Lifting you up again. And do-. No. Still up. Still up. Ah. A breather, at last. That's Danny's mistake. You hit him in the skull with your knee three times. That gets you back on your own feet. Feels good. You crack your head into his. Why not? You can't tell up from down yet, on account of all the suplexes, and blood rushing to your head. Headbutt won't hurt. Then you spin around. More dizziness makes no difference. Rolling elbow. Is that a loose tooth? You keep him before he drops, a ripcord elbow, not so loose anymore.
You're in control now. He's on the back foot. He knows he's one mistake away from tapping out. He's tapped out bad before. You watched the match with Jeremy Best. He's afraid it'll happen again. And he's cautious because of it. Always got his eyes on the ropes. That's how you end up on the wrong side of it. He tries to be a heavyweight again. Suplex you over the ropes. Doesn't quite manage. Those headshots did the damage. You catch him with the knee. This is it.
Make that head rattle one more time, and that'll be it. Nothing in him left to resist tapping out. You climb the turnbuckle. It's a risk. A stupid risk. But that knee hit him hard. You've got a good knee. Good a knee as anyone. Peacock. Krash. Danny, himself. He's not getting back up. You even gave him a suplex to be sure.
You go flying - and fuck, he rolled away. You land on your feet. That's the only way you were willing to add this to your move set. If you could land on your feet. You get back up, turn around, and-

“I don’t have any other plans at Back in Business. I know that they’ve got tag titles to defend. I don’t care. Alyster Black loves to fight. That’s his thing. And he knows how it goes. Sometimes you’ve got back-to-backs. Shit, he won a gauntlet to get a world title shot, didn’t he? I’m not gonna shed a tear for him, or take him any less seriously. Same thing with Chris. He can defend those tag belts. Have at it. But I’m going to be watching those matches, and I have no issue with picking out the weakness I see, and taking advantage of them. You want to split your attention, that’s fine. We’ll see what kinda shape Peacock’s in at Back in Business. Personally, I’m not sure that match will be as clear-cut as it’s seeming. I think you’ll agree after I’m done.”

You hear a loud ringing sound. It was only for a few seconds, you know because Greenback Boogie isn't too far in. You exhale. Utter disappointment. You couldn't do it. All that momentum is gone. You lost. You're not good enough. You couldn't beat Danny Toner. He's better than you. He dropped the ball all those times, but he came back. He came back over and over again. And this is who he is now. The best. The absolute fucking best. He came back. You didn’t. Not till it was too late. That’s the difference.
You took your break, and now you're a step behind. You're playing catch-up. Can you even catch up? They might all be gone by the time you do. Done their job. Won their gold. And packed up.
Why did you come back? You should've stayed on the bench. Kept your honor about you. Now you've proven what you could have once denied. You're not the best. You were a guy who was a bit good but had too much of an ego. If you'd stuck around, and hadn't made stupid challenges, you could've lived up to the promise. Do you see all those guys who picked up world titles while you were gone? Not only in the last two years. Even before that. Sully. You used to slap that guy around. He's a legend now. A future first ballot hall of fame member if there was one. That could have been you.
But instead, you're walking up that ramp. And you're listening to Greenback Boogie. Because you got knocked out. And you got pinned for the three count. And you couldn't do anything about it.
What now? This was how you sealed the deal with Alyster Black. How you reeled the Blood Knight in, by proving you could beat the man he couldn't. But you couldn't beat him. What's Alyster got to gain from beating you now?
Nothing. You have nothing to offer. Fear you at Golden Opportunity? You were being too proud. Let that Truth win get to your head. You're unproven. All he has to do is wait for you to slip up. To take a dumb risk. And all he has to do is follow up. Hit the One Shot Kill. Done deal.
You got rocked outside the ring. You got tossed around inside. You got knocked out. Alyster's laughing at you right now. Somewhere backstage. If he's still there. If he watched. He's laughing. And he doesn't think anything of you.

“I’m not really impressed with FTN winning the tag team championships. It goes without saying, I’m not a fan of tag team wrestling, but I know a lot of people take it as seriously as I do singles wrestling, and I respect that. But it’s hard for me not to think that this is just FTN trying to collect accolades without really caring about what those accolades mean. And I know that the North American Championship is waiting around the corner and Alyster Black, and especially Chris Peacock, they’ll have their eyes on it. And you know, I still think I have unfinished business with the North American Championship myself. So if I can find a way to get between them, and the rest of them backstage, and that belt, I will. That’s not taking away from Baxter, he seems like a tough bastard. But I think I’d do a better job of keeping that belt to those it’s right for. They seem to give out a lot of free shots for gold these days. Much more often than when I started. I’m still willing to earn a shot at the NA, though.”

Wanda knocked on the hotel door. There was no answer. She sighed and pulled out the card she bribed the receptionist to get. At least her investment would pay off. She opened the door. The man inside stood up in a hurry, and turned around in a panic, and saw Wanda. He relaxed. Then, he noticed her gaze, and remembered how he'd been lounging.
"Can you give me a second?"
She nodded.
He walked off, as unashamed as he could manage, to his room. He returned with a tank top, and shorts.
"Nice to see you, I hope."
"You disappeared."
"Not really."
"I couldn't get a hold of you. It was my presumption that the result of your match with Danny Toner had an undue impact on your psyche."
"Well, it did suck."
"I assumed, wrongly, it seems, that you were going to attempt to... disappear."
"Why'd you think I'd disappear? Because of the loss?"
"That, or because you feared what I would do to you after such a disappointment."
"Oh, right. I guess that slipped my mind."
"Maybe you lost because you underestimate the legitimacy of my threats."
"No, it's not that. I very much estimate them. It's only, I'm not the sort of person who gets motivated by threats like that. I mean, I don't want to die, but it won't make me fight harder. I try as hard as I'm able to no matter what."
"Then you simply weren't good enough to beat Danny."
"It seems that way. So, as far as your threats go. I try not to think about it at all. Should I be worried?"
"No."
"Good. Well, as you can see, I'm fine."
"How come you weren't answering your phone?"
"It broke."
"I see, the loss did have an impact."
"No. I don't take my anger out like that. It slipped. Taking a knee to the head messes with your balance for a while."
"Did you get checked?"
"I'm fine now."
"Very well. This is somewhat reassuring, although... perhaps seeing you take the defeat harder would further reassure me of how much this means to you."
"You want me to take the loss harder. I'm taking it very hard, Wanda. I really wanted to beat Danny. I did. I made some mistakes I shouldn't have. I got ahead of myself. I didn't simply want to win, I wanted to prove myself. I was outplayed."
"This isn't a game."
"You don't have to tell me that. Or at least, you don't have to think I don't take it seriously. I do. No one takes it as seriously as I do. But, in many ways, it is a game. With rules. And there are a lot of components that go into it. And sometimes you have to do what I did, and test yourself. Even if it means losing. And you have to keep testing yourself. That's how you push yourself to your limits. I shouldn't have fought him on the outside. I shouldn't have gone to the top rope. Zachary Kazadi never would've. He'd have known better. But weaselperson didn't. And it cost them. I'm not happy with what happened. I want nothing more than to get a second chance at Danny, to prove that I could beat him any other day. But I didn't beat him that day, so I guess it'll be a while till I get another shot at him, won't it? Who am I facing this week, by the way? I've sort of... kept my head down since then."
"You're not facing anyone."
"They kept me off the card?"
"No. I couldn't contact you. And Russnow couldn't contact you. So he contacted me. I requested an indefinite leave of absence."
"What the fuck, Wanda?"
"You disappeared. Be a professional."
"With all the crazy shit you have going on, you couldn't have found me sooner?"
"I tried contacting you. I decided to give you space to recuperate until you decide to contact me of your own volition. When that did not happen, I hoped to attract you with some good news. I visited your place, and you weren't there. I discovered you had extended your stay at the hotel in Austin, and had recently checked in El Paso."
"Me not wrestling is not good news."
"That wasn't the news."
"What is it?"
"I'm sure you were wondering how you were going to guarantee your challenge was answered. To this Alyster Black."
"I thought I might have to call him out again. What else can I do?"
"You can confront him."
"He plans on showing up on Meltdown?"
"Alyster Black has been attending every FWA show for one reason, and one reason only. He's been waiting for an opportunity."
"At what? The World Championship?"
"The World Tag Team Championships. The Connection has been defending it frequently, and haphazardly. Many challengers have been welcomed, in a variety of circumstances. Alyster knows that he has a chance. And his partner, Chris Peacock, is ever present should such a chance appear. They won't risk missing it."
"So he'll be at Meltdown."
"Yes. You will know better than I will what it will take to arrest his attention."
"I'll handle it. But why are you so invested in this? It won't do much for weaselperson's legacy, you know. A victory at Back in Business is nice, but this is just a fight for pride."
"And weaselperson's pride should not be important to me? They fell short at the King of Death Match. Beating Alyster Black at Back in Business would go some way to redeeming that horrid night."
"Alright. You don’t have to say anything more. If I get Alyster at Back in Business, I'll see to it that it is redeemed."
"Not if. You will. No more empty promises. weaselperson will get their moment at Back in Business. You will make sure of it. If Alyster has nothing to do but talk, then you will confront him. If he will simply roam backstage, you will confront him. But, it would seem to me, that if his wish does come true, there will be no greater opportunity to assure your match than to cost him his."
"You said I would know what it would take to arrest his attention better than you would."
"I did."
"Good. Then I'll do it my way."
"If you fail to do so-"
"I won't."
"Good. I will get you a new phone. Two new phones. You will take care to make sure one remains intact at all times."
"Of course, Wanda."

“Cyrus Truth seems like he’s on his last legs, doesn’t he? Almost takes away from what I did to him, seeing him stumble to Back in Business. And Peacock has made it clear as day how he feels. And now that he’s beat the Connection. After he defended that belt against Michelle and Truth, it’s hard to think Peacock still doubts what he’s capable of. Danny’s still a worm in the back of his mind, but going up against me, I wonder how he sees it. That’s the question I always have when I look into my opponent's eyes these days. Do they think nothing of me because of the suit, or do they brush that aside, and remember what I’ve done thus far? I don’t wear it to get people’s guard down. weaselperson is just who I am. But I can’t ignore the effect it has. Well, if I don’t see that fire in Peacock’s eyes, maybe I can make him remember that even a weasel’s claws can make a king bleed sometimes.”

Meltdown came. You didn't have to wait too long. Chris Peacock, the FWA World Champion, came out. Then Michelle von Horrowitz, the FWA World Tag Team Champion, came out. Michelle had company. The Nephews. weaselperson hadn't talked to the Nephews. Not since Back in Business. That's how they wanted to keep it.
And the inevitable happened. Uncle proposed a tag team match. Titles on the line. Sonne played. Surprise, surprise. Alyster Black is here.
The Connection is good. Very good. They should be able to win. They should. But FTN had been waiting for this moment. This particular moment. A clean chance at the Nephews. They wanted nothing more than this. Alyster Black had vowed the only reason he'd return was for this. And here he was. This would erase every failure that had preceded this night. The loss of the X Championship. The loss of the FWA World Championship. The loss of the F1. The loss at Carnal Contendership. This mattered more than anything for Alyster. And he was desperate.
And Chris Peacock. He's no less desperate. Even with that FWA World Championship, the greatest of prizes, he's desperate. Because he has a legacy to build. The Triple Crown. And further in the distance, the Grand Slam. More accolades to prove to himself that he belongs. Not belongs, but surpasses. To himself, and the world. And not only that, but the ghost of Randy Ramon still haunted him. And he needed this to erase the last traces of that friendship. To prove he'd moved on, and he was all the better for it.
They wanted this. They wanted this very badly, and that could be the difference.
And the Connection, for all their talent and chemistry, they were not prepared. They hadn't been in their last defence either. And Michelle, she had her eyes elsewhere. This whole series of defenses, it reeked of fear on her behalf. Fear that she was nearing the end, and she would do anything to further cement what little she could of herself. They were tiring. Or growing too comfortable. It'd be close. Real close.
FTN's desperation is plain. It's not only desperation though. It's chemistry. They respect each other as equals. There's no enmity there. Or jealousy. Even though Peacock has what Black wants. They have faith in each other, in ways they haven't had in other people. Peacock soared for a suicide dive. He's never done it before. Doesn't pay off. But the champ's got extra tricks up his bag. That's worth noting. He's not done growing. He's still got more to show. It'd be easy to rest on his laurels. He'd done more than most could in his short career. More than anything you've done. Ever will do? We'll see.
It's real close. The Nephews, those Black and Peacock want so badly to be fornicated, intervene.
You should go out. Damn this match. It's Black and Peacock wanting to swell their records. There's no love for tag team wrestling here. This isn't a passionate climb up the ladder. This is two men who need every ounce of approval they can get. This is why they've opposed the Nephews. This is why they've been plotting to take any easy route to those pair of gold belts that they could.
They don't deserve this. And if they do, they can do it when they're not taking what you demand away from you. You gave Alyster a chance. Did he think there wouldn't be any consequences to mocking you? To telling you you aren't worth it?
Go out there, and slap him. Make him pass out. Take away the only reason he had for sticking around, and replace it. Wanda is right. This is the only way you can be sure. It's this, or you go to find two friends for a battle royal. Is that what you want?
No, but I'm not going to get involved in the match either. That's not me. It's not weaselperson. There are some lines best not crossed.
Come on. Look at this. It's hardly a wrestling match. If the referee was doing his job, this would've been thrown out a while ago.
That's not a good enough reason. This is simply the fight they've both chosen to fight. I don't respect it. But it has nothing to do with me.
The two teams fight on. The match crosses twenty minutes. And weaselperson sees the way things are going. The interference isn't as reliable. It's catching up to them. Especially against those two. FTN. They knew more than anyone what they were walking into. They were ready. The Nephews won't be enough. The way things are going, the momentum, the fire behind FTN.
It's almost over.
Better get ready.

“You heard he might wrestle as peacockperson? That’s funny. I hope he does. I hope dragonperson shows up at Back in Business instead of Alyster Black too. No, really, I don’t care how they show up. I don’t mind the jokes. Inevitable really. Logan Darwin was doing them from week one, wasn’t he? I’ll leave them to it.”

The Nephews are out of the way when you walk down the ramp. Good. You're not interested in a confrontation with them.
Your music doesn't play. That's fine. Better he's sitting pretty in the ring, without a chance to get away. He's going to face you. He's going to face you whether he likes it or not. You climb up the steps, enter the ring, and stand in the center of it. Your eyes are on one man: Alyster Black.
His eyes lock on yours.
He wants to fight you.
He really wants to fight you.
And you want to fight him.
So enough with all the bullshit theatrics.
You've got your tag belts now. Time to focus on the real fight. The one you'll do on your own. And you know that's the fight you care more about than any other. That's why you've got your eyes on that FWA World Championship. Because you want to be the best, not one of the best.
He drops the FWA World Tag Team Championship. His fist balled up.
I wasn't expecting a fight. I don't really want a fight. I want the promise of a fight. But if this is what it'll take, then-
The gold plate crashes into the back of your head. You fall limp to the ground.

“Yeah, the fact that this could have been the Back in Business main event does gnaw at me, just a little. The thought that the result of this match, could have likely been the result of the Back in Business main event, yeah, it’s a bit bothersome. But it’s a chance to reassure myself. I’ll never really know what if? But this is the closest I can come to that answer. There’s a lot of variables that make this match different than that one. But the most important variables are that it’s weaselperson on one side, and the FWA World Champion Chris Peacock on the other. Whatever the circumstances, I’ll give each match my all. But when I say that about this particular match, know that it is my all, and it’s that very same all I would’ve put forward if I had secured my spot in the Back in Business main event. What I’d like Chris to feel after the match is a unique combination of agony and relief. Agony, evidently, deriving from how I’ve folded his body up. But relief that it was Cyrus Truth that was last standing in that ring. I want to see that look of relief and agony in his eyes. I’ve never seen it, but I think I’ll recognize it if I get a chance.”

When you wake up again, a road agent and a doctor are rolling you outside the ring. You catch your footing on the way out. The agent and the doctor offer shoulders and you take it. You can tell you'll drop if you don't.
"What happened?"
"Peacock knocked you out with the belt."
"Huh. Shit. Which belt?"
"Which belt?"
"The new ones or the important one."
"The World Championship."
"Heh. Guess I shouldn't have turned my back on him."
"Yeah, you're not the first guy who disrespected him and paid for it."
"He makes a habit of taking cheap shots?"
"Not of taking cheap shots. But of hurting people. Bad."
"I'm still standing, aren't I?"
The doc and the agent offering shoulders laughed.
"Ayo doc, how's my favorite rodent doing?"
Jon Russnow showed up with a grin.
Fucking terrible, you think.
"Amazing," you say.
"Amazing? Oh, right. First chance you get to taste FWA World Championship gold."
"Doesn't have to be the last."
"Golden Opportunity is still a while away."
"I'm not talking about Golden Opportunity, Jon. Your World Champion took a shot at me. You need to balance that out, or as much as I don't want to, I'll have to take matters into my own hands."
"Thought you were on a leave of absence."
"Miscommunication. Jon. Me and Chris. Next week. You're going to make it happen, right?"
"Well, FTN might be busy."
"It took a lot of self-control and grace for me not to get involved in that match just now. I won't be as generous next time, if you don't give me something, Jon. He started this. I'm owed a chance at retribution aren't I?"
"Fine! Fine! If the doc gives you all the clear, I'll make it happen, alright. And ANSWER YOUR DAMN PHONE."
You head to the medical room to get checked up. You get a chance to see FTN finding themselves a match the next show. Russnow mustn't have had a chance to warn them. Doesn't matter. He knows it's coming. So, how much is he willing to give up of himself before his big night? Because you'll take a lot. You'll take a whole heck of a lot. As much as you need to take so that Alyster has no choice but to accept. And if that doesn't leave much for Cyrus to play with, then that's that.
The show goes on. And more announcements emerge. If FTN win next week, they'd defend at Back in Business. Had to expect it. But it grates on you. You should've swallowed your pride and gotten in the way of that match. No. Doesn't matter. You don't have the luxury of picking the circumstances of your matches. You had chances to decide your fate at Back in Business. Focus on your last chance. Make Peacock tap out. Snap a limb. Force Alyster's hand.
 
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