The atmosphere, it’s electric.
The stage, it’s set.
The arena, it’s packed.
Red and white pyro EXPLODE out of the stage, the lights go nuts, and the patrons of the Star of the Desert Arena get real loud, real fast.
Once all that dies down, the lights in the arena go all the way down to black.
The arena is hushed.
We cut to the barren, darkened hum of the boiler room at the Epicenter. A dull, low hum fills the air, and a single chain being pulled to illuminate a naked bulb reveals why there’s even a camera in the utility wing at all: Charlie Jay Hitchens. Her hands are already taped, and her eyes remain obscured under the brim of her ballcap. She has her pocket knife out, and she appears to be cleaning her nails with the tip.
CJH: Lots of noise here. Bright and loud, a testament to the hubris of all of us and how you folks like to prostrate yourselves at the altar of capital. The altar of gold.
She pauses, briefly.
CJH: Hard to even find a quiet moment. But that drum keeps thunderin’ in my skull. See, I can hear every one of ’em, even down here in the guts of this forsaken shrine. They all stand with their own heartbeats, every one of them sweating and pumping blood purely so they can feel the forest in them again. That’s deep power that the Lord instilled in us whence he built us from clay.
She takes a moment, gnawing at a hangnail, sighing deeply, her wheezing bellows voice continuing on.
CJH: Poppy talked of you, Buck Dresden. Men like you. Men who forget the dark heart what birthed them. He told me there was shame in this and I could hear it in the creak of his voice, Buck Dresden. It hurt him to see. Some in my tree ended up that way, and he told me every time it broke his heart. You forget family. Forget your scripture. Forget what forged you into who you was.
She spits softly to the side, and resumes working on the grime and blood under her nails, half a death’s grin cutting across her features.
CJH: they never lasted too long, Poppy said. Destined for disappointment and cut adrift like trash from a refinery in the river.
Another pause as she inspects her left hand.
CJH: It’s a sad thing, Buck Dresden. Not that you’ve gotten some money and decided you’re better than the rest of us—that’s common enough and of no concern to me. I could go out tonight and lose to the Jester, and if you hadn’t said anything, we may have never crossed paths again.
She looks up, frowning slightly. In the sparse light of the room we can catch the shine of her eyes, currently burrowing into the camera with fire.
CJH: Naw. What’s unfortunate is you had to train your gaze on me.
For a moment, she’s going to go on—but stops herself, resuming her cleaning and muttering to herself so softly it’s inaudible for a moment.
CJH: …”never gonna be about vendettas, Charlene”, he said…I’m not a fighter, Buck Dresden. I’m not some backwoods hick you can cast as a villain in your own personal redemption arc, neither. If you are the light—if you’re even meant to see the light anymore, that path goes directly through me. I am the test by which you will have to pass before balm will be found in Gilead. I am the forest you better hope you’re prepared to survive. You have to learn, as we all will, about your own limitations. About the dangers of trying to believe you are greater than you are. These are lessons the elders taught us on my side of the Appalachians. Shame yours saw it fit to coddle you.
She chuckles, the laugh of roadkill.
CJH: You forgot what was important in your quest for rich man’s gold, Buck Dresden. You make it sound like we’ll just have to cross paths as part of this tournament. Let me be real clear so you can understand it. I go out there tonight and lose? We’re still gonna see one another. After all…
She taps on a steam pipe with her pocket knife, punctuating the silence with two dull clanking tones
CJH: …ain’t like I can’t find you.
With that, the camera backs out through the labyrinth, leaving Charlie Jay Hitchens in the darkness under the single bulb. We cut away.
Dan Stein: My fellow…uh…what are we calling ourselves now?
Stein looks over his shoulder to the group of people standing behind him: Molly (his wife), Johnny Patriot (his cousin), Toni and Tina (his bodyguards), and…several potentially paid actors. The camera pans back to reveal Stein standing in front of a podium with a “Dan Stein: Make Champions Great Again” sign on it. Stein is dressed to the nines in his most presidential suit, looking more like Barack than The Donald. Molly is wearing a white business suit and a pair of incredible looking glasses. Johnny Patriot is wearing his mask…and a red “Make Champions Great Again” hat, along with a red, white, and blue suit (God bless America). Toni and Tina are wearing pantsuits, too, but their sleeves are ripped off and their bulbous arms are exposed. Stein turns to the camera, covering the microphone but not very well.
Dan Stein: Anyone? Y’know what, screw it. They’re all nerds anyways.
Dan then moves to fix his tie, but stops short of touching it as he realizes it’s already perfect. That trademark smirk.
Dan Stein: Unfortunately for the failing SHOOT Project roster, Dan Stein does not have a match on Revolution this week.
The paid actors begin to boo, and wave “Stein 2020” signs.
Dan Stein: I know, they tried to get me to participate. They did. They called me up and they said, “The ratings, Dan, think of the ratings.” Everybody knows Dan Stein brings ratings. I thought about it. They would only ask me if they needed me. They need me. They hate to admit it, but they know it. They do.
The actors begin to clap and cheer and hoot and holler. Stein steps back from the podium, nodding his head. He leans in from afar.
Dan Stein: Keep cheering.
Stein waves them on. The camera cuts to a member of the audience wearing a ‘I’d rather be a #Twitterbater than a Nerd’ t-shirt. Nobody quite knows what it means.
Dan Stein: They love me. My poll numbers have never been better. Better than Charlie Jay Hitchens, that’s for sure.
“LOCK HER UP!” chants. Stein has to take a step back again to let the crowd wear itself out again.
Dan Stein: They wanted me to wrestle tonight, but I couldn’t do it. I could not show up the Great American Hero, Johnny Patriot. I couldn’t do it. I’m not that kind of guy. I don’t want all the attention on me.
Molly rolls her eyes hard enough to hear. Johnny Patriot steps forward, waving regally to the crowd.
Dan Stein: Johnny Patriot, ladies and gentlemen.
Stein steps back, allowing Patriot to approach the podium. As Patriot steps closer, Stein steps forward again, awkwardly cutting off the man. Patriot tries to side step him, but Stein refuses to move. Patriot speaks from the side of the podium.
Johnny Patriot: Cade Syd-
Stein leaps forward, grabbing the microphone away from Johnny Patriot’s face and the two fight for the microphone. Stein yells at him, “Nobody cares about Cade Sydal” as they tussle for the microphone. Stein shoves him away. Patriot looks at his cousin, furrowing his brows to show the only expression his can from behind a mask. Stein points at the group of people behind him, angrily, and Patriot nods, walking back to the group.
Dan Stein: J-Johnny Patriot everyone.
Stein fixes his suit for real this time, turning back to the camera as he runs his hands through his hair to fix it.
Dan Stein: So no, Dan Stein won’t be wrestling tonight. But as everyone knows, it’s not a Revolution unless Dan Stein shows up. Everybody knows that the SHOOT Project will always need… The Golden Boy.
Stein steps out from behind the podium, unbuttons his suit jacket, and flexes his biceps for the camera. The camera fades.
In the back, Nate Robideau stands. He’s dressed as he would be in what passes for casual, buttons done up all the way and cowboy boots buffed. He looks directly forward, his normally rock straight stance marred slightly, the testament of a warrior who has survived something. His face is as stoic as ever. He looks down, finding his words.
Robideau: Many people told me that I should be happy. I received plenty of congratulations in the back, but I got caught up in the moment, and unfortunately couldn’t get a word in with Ron Barker before he left. Perhaps that was for the best. It gave me time to reflect on my victory. So this next part, Ron, I’m speaking to your directly.
His gaze meets the camera, a soft smile on his face.
Robideau: You exposed me. Don’t pay attention to the win or the loss—I was whipped. I got lucky. Anyone who watches that match knows I got lucky. I could hardly roll my bones out of bed for the next few days! A Flash submission is, ultimately, nothing. The grasp of a desperate man who knows his number has been punched. So I thank you, Ron Barker. Without you, all of this would have still been theoretical. All of this would have been conditioning, sparring, and a whole bunch of “what ifs” piling up in my head every night.
He places his hands in the pockets of his jeans, beginning to pace slowly.
Robideau: You showed me that I’m not hardly ready for this. That I’ve got many many miles to go before I am. But the damage is done, ref called for the bell, and here I sit. In a tournament that’s only going to get harder for me as it narrows down.
The pacing continues, but he looks upward for a brief pause.
Robideau: So much talent is on display that it’s staggering. I thought being hungry for it, hungrier than all the rest, would sit in my favor. I was banking on it. I’ve had to change my thinking.
He laughs again, softly, his smile still only halfway.
Robideau: I see competitors like Buck Dresden and what he has endured, all the success he’s had. I have…I have a gap in my experience. You cant discount that. Only a fool would. Others in this tournament bring such variety that preparing for each one is a challenge.
He stops, as if he has come across a thought that has demanded it. He faces the viewer full forward, hands on his hips.
Robideau: But I was never raised to back down from a challenge. And things I did later in life? Well, the only silver lining to them is that every day was a fresh challenge to face. We became really good friends, challenge and I. Challenge is something I can eyeball with trepidation and still feel totally prepared in facing. Head on. Nose down. Eyes sharp. So when I saw you take that win, Malice…I knew I was facing one of those classic binary decisions. I could run. To what? Or I could move forward. Listen, I’m not here telling you to watch out. I’m not promising that I’ll outwrestle you or show you violence beyond what you’re already quite evidently capable of. I cant guarantee you’ll even lose to me. Exciting stuff, right?
With that he laughs, steady and booming, his eyes searching the floor.
Robideau: I’m on the wrong side of 30. My conditioning isn’t up to snuff. But I’ll face you, Malice. And if I lose I’ll face whoever my name is on the other side of. Each and every one that’s placed in front of me. Even if I font win? Believe that it wont be the last you see of me. You can take that as the gospel. And if I do win…I’ll do it differently. I wont get caught up. I’ll be sure I meet you in the locker room to shake your hand and thank you for the lesson I’ve learned.
He nods and walks off camera with no ceremony. We cut away…
“It’s real simple.”
The camera opens, showing none other than moving-on-to-the-second-round Jonas Coleman.
“I had a great match out there with a slow, lazy, silent Valentine Lionheart. The crowd ate it up, and I know I looked great on TV and I know I made him look great, but I’m here to win. Not here to be the guy that gets great, heartfelt moments from people on their way to glory.
Not here to be a stepping stone.
Not here to be a named win for an homage to SHOOT Project’s past.
I am the present, and I am the future.”
He shoves his matted-down-with-sweat hair back and looks straight into the camera.
“I see you, Dan Stein. You have your cadre of people behind you, propping you up, telling you about all the great things you’re going to do, but here’s a great thing you won’t do.
Why? Because you can’t. I don’t need a legion of yes-people behind me to get out of bed, get to work, and drop you. No partners, no stable, no nothing. There’s only one guy in this tournament I sweat, and that?
That’s Buck Dresden.
So, Stein? Get your words in while you can. I’m breaking your jaw at Revolution 135.”
“Heavy is the Head” by Zac Brown Band and Chris Cornell rips into the arena and brings the fans to focus on the entrance. Out from the back, however, comes a man clad in a long brown duster, old and torn denim jeans with a pair of scuffed to hell boots. On his chest is a ripped and faded button up shirt with a ratty old gambler style cowboy hat on his head. He stands there at the entrance ramp letting the cameras view him in all his worn out intensity. He is Obsidian. He walks down to the ring and enters it, pulling his hat down low over his brow. He lets the fans boo him until his theme song cuts off. Then, he stands there with his head bowed, his beard and long hair the only thing seen as he brings the microphone to his lips.
Obsidian: I am loyal. I am stalwart. There are many different words that have been used to describe me. Frightening. Darkness. Monster. But I prefer the terms I mentioned just now.
He holds his free hand up.
Obsidian: Stalwart. Loyal. Allow me to explain to you all who I am. I am a foundation. I am what you build upon on your path to greatness. I have always done better as a soldier. As a backbone. In every faction I have been with, in every brotherhood I have been in, I have worked to remain in the shadows. To bolster those around me. Help them. Make them better. You see, I was never put here to be some sort of…star. No, I am here because I desire to amplify those around me. And think, if you would, of those that I have been around.
He lets those names ring out, fans booing or cheering as they desired.
Obsidian: I have come close to greatness more times than I can count. I have worked with great men throughout my lifetime. I have trained them. And here and now I can tell you that I am not here for some newfound desire to attain greatness for myself. No, I am here to judge greatness. You see, I have built for all of you a legacy around the sadists, the masochists, the heroes, and the villains of this sport. Now, as I near what may be my twilight, the time has come to see what my legacy has truly become.
He lifts his head, glaring into the camera.
Obsidian: I will judge each and every soul that I have touched. I will judge each and every aspect of this company. From its Soldiers to its Veterans to its Generals. I am your judgment. And I start at the top of the food chain, as it were, with Instant…Heat.
He pauses, letting the fans cheer the name.
Obsidian: OutKast and the Real Deal have been known throughout the world of professional wrestling as innovators, trendsetters, and heroes for generations aspiring to greatness. They have been in several professional wrestling promotions. However, the caveat to that is that since over a decade ago, neither of these men have seen fit to step into a ring that wasn’t the SHOOT Project.
He looks around at the fans.
Obsidian: That is their choice. And if this company had survived constantly and insistently that would be enough. Instead, they have hoarded their talent, hoarded their skills, hoarded their wisdom, and have damaged this business as a result. When Jason Johnson saw fit to walk away from SHOOT Project these men decided to augment their own brands in Mexico and Japan. When their most famous and influential Soldiers needed a home, they fled the country. They abandoned their Soldiers. And now? Now what do you see before you?
Obsidian: Diamond Del Carver is dead. Chris Lee is gone. Jonny Johnson is gone. Trey Willett is barely coherent. Eddie E is gone. And those that have come feel like shells of their former selves. The only thing Azraith has in common with his older self is the same quality of blue hair dye. Kenji Yamada is as quiet as a mouse. Cade Sydal drowned himself in drugs and is nothing like the man that was the heir apparent of this company. Isaac Entragian, last anyone saw him in the light, was bested and left for dead. These people that were built for greatness were left starved because of the selfishness of OutKast and the Real Deal. Imagine what a world we could have seen if these men had either kept this company alive. If they thought about someone…something other than themselves.
He inhales deeply, sighing a despondent sigh.
Obsidian: Perhaps Del Carver could have died knowing he was a hero to millions. Someone could have helped clean Cade Sydal up, given him a home to flourish again. Chris Lee could have retired on his own terms, in front of the masses that elevated him to greatness to begin with. Azraith, Kenji, and Isaac could have blazed a trail for generations to come if the blood they spilled were on a SHOOT Project mat. But no. No. OutKast and the Real Deal took that from everyone around them and now here they sit, signing contracts with their name in the letterhead and announcing that they are going to revitalize the tag team division in a company that if it had taken care of itself would have never had those concerns.
Obsidian: I am ashamed of this place. It limps along, patting itself on the back, while it left countless to starve in poorly ran third rate companies throughout the wrestling world. And that is why I am here. Because I am loyal to this company. Because I am a stalwart reminder of the foundations that this company was built upon. I stand next to a man you would think I have nothing in common with in the form of Donovan King, but do you see what became of him after this company left him cold and alone? He suffered a mental breakdown, admitted into a psychiatric hospital, all because some other company dangled the carrot of competition in front of his face when he was at his weakest. I found him again. I saved him again. I have judged him to be left wanting but also that he is a victim of the callous beasts that call themselves Instant Heat.
He turns his attention back to the camera.
Obsidian: I am here to judge you. I am here as the personification of a company filled with Soldiers and other nameless and faceless heroes and villains and I will crash down upon you with the vengeance owed to your souls. I am loyal. I am stalwart. I am SHOOT Project. I…am Obsidian.
With that “Heavy is the Head” plays once more as Obsidian exits the ring, letting his words of retribution and rage fester in the air as Revolution 134 fades to black.