We open to a black screen, the soft intro beginning to play.
I thank you for all the lives you’ve led
Against the black backdrop, sparks begin to fly as a curved line begins to carve into the darkness in gold.
I thank you for every word you said
The carving continues along its path, straightening and curving again as it goes, beginning to form a familiar shape.
I thank you for walking away
The sparks stop as the rudimentary carving of the SHOOT Project helmet glows red-gold against the black background.
I THANK YOU
The screen flashes brilliant white, almost blinding to the naked eye.
I thank you for the promises you broke
We cut to the Mojave desert, outside of Las Vegas, the fabled Epicenter just barely visible in the distance.
For always watching, watching while I choke
We cut to the inside of the Epicenter the backstage halls empty. The camera transitions to a first person view, beginning to travel the halls.
I thank you for teaching me
The camera begins to move further on, through the curtains to the empty arena, the ring at the center. It is empty, pristine, untouched.
Yes, I thank you for your hurting
We move down the entrance ramp to the empty ring, and just as we reach it…
(I BITE DOWN) a little harder
Dan Stein and Johnny Patriot back to back amidst a desert landscape, the SHOOT Project Tag Team Championships on their shoulders.
(MY BLADES) a little sharper
We jump-cut to Azraith DeMitri dragging himself from the dry, cracked desert earth, the Sin City Championship clutched in his hand.
My roots, my roots
Run deep into the hollow
We flash to Jonas Coleman in darkness, his head bowed initially, but then snapping upright quickly.
(STRIKE BACK) a little harder
Cut back to a completely packed Epicenter, pyro exploding all along the stage in shades of red and white.
(I SCREAM) a little louder
Back in the desert, Jonas Coleman explodes out of a desert rock formation, the World Heavyweight Championship held on his shoulder in defiance.
My roots, my roots
Run deep into the hollow
We cut to a rotating shot of all three SHOOT Project championship belts against the darkness with the helmet logo carved into it.
I’m stronger than I ever knew
Fade back to the empty Epicenter, this shot taken from above.
I’m strong because of you
The scene flashes to a packed Epicenter, the lights flashing various colors, the atmosphere tense with excitement.
(I HIT BACK) a little louder
Azraith DeMitri raises the Sin City Championship high in the air after a hard fought victory.
(FUCK YOU) a little harder
Make Championships Great Again sling their titles back over their shoulders after eeking out yet another victory.
My roots, my roots
Jonas Coleman stands tall, covered in sweat, and hoists the SHOOT Project World Heavyweight Championship in the air before we cut to the SHOOT Project helmet logo.
Run deep into the hollow…
Abigail Chase stands by, microphone in hand, awaiting the greenlight from the production team. Seconds later, she nods to no one in particular through her ear piece and looks directly into the camera.
Abigail Chase: Ladies and Gentlemen, X-Calibur!
X-Calibur then walks into the picture. The audience roars from their seats while watching the SHOOT Epitron. Clad in a face mask that has a tribal “X” design on it, the slight narrowing of his eyes and upward movement of said mask suggests that he is smiling underneath it.
X-Calibur: Well hello there. It’s been a hot damn minute, hasn’t it Abigail?
Abigail stifles a laugh.
Abigail Chase: That’s for sure. So, any thoughts before competing in your first SHOOT match in nine years?
X-Calibur: Not really. And why are you asking me this now? We’ve got nearly the WHOLE NIGHT to “make ‘em wait”. Besides, I’ve said what I’ve had to say for Haskell, so there’s no point in burying the fucker here, is there?
X-Calibur: I would wish the little bastard luck but, I kiiiinda wanna win this one. So, you know, there’s that.
X goes to step away from the camera and stops short, realizing something. The lightbulb can be digitally placed above his head for the replay on the app at a later time, of course.
X-Calibur: Actually, you know what? There is something else I’d like to say. You know, maybe I’m overestimating my self-worth these days, but… I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little disappointed with the lack of people blowing up my phone, email, ICQ, and MySpace wanting a match with me. I mean, do I need to do a Reddit AMA and offend someone to ignite the fire in someone else? Should I swan dive down into that 4Chan rabbit hole and call out every motherfucker, living or dead, just to get a bite!?
X-Calibur: Maybe it’s too soon? Maybe y’all don’t have my number? Maybe someone mistakenly thought my egregiously long Discord Friend Code was actually my egregiously long Nintendo Switch Friend Code? I dunno. Whatever the case may be, I’d really like people to stop being such a bunch of little bitches and actually step up. Is SHOOT really going to let Haskell Payne be the only one to want to step up and go toe-to-toe with a decorated SHOOT Project Veteran SOLDIER like myself? Because let’s be honest with ourselves here. What’s good for me in this situation?
He points at himself for a moment, letting the words sink in. X then points at the camera.
X-Calibur: Is equally good for —
Azraith DeMitri’s imposing figure slowly creeps into the frame. X senses this and immediately smiles. Turning away from the camera to face the current reigning Sin City Champion…
X-Calibur: — you. Well, hello Azraith.
He pauses, taking a moment to let the moment sink in between them. The audience gasps and “Ooh’s” and “Ahh’s” at this moment. Two long tenured SHOOT Project SOLDIERS standing face to face for the first time in… God knows how long. Azraith just nods for a moment before slowly lifting up the Sin City Championship.
Azraith: So, not to step on your toes, but I’m hearing what you’re saying. You want in on the action. You want people to be proactive. Here’s the thing. I’ve had people stepping up for this for months. Not just because it’s a championship, but because it’s something that’s been fought for and contested practically every show since I became champion. I got people in fuckin’ line for this shit. Now…I ain’t sayin you should get in said line. Honestly I know you got your own thing going on…but…
Az leans in a bit.
Azraith: If people aren’t lining up? Line them up. Make them interested. You’re fuckin’ X-Calibur. The SHOOT Project Hall of Fame is gonna be built on your goddamn foundation. Insert yourself into the conversation. This roster is one of the best rosters this company has ever seen. Paint the target on your fuckin’ head and just do it, X. Once you take the first step, trust me when I tell you they will keep on comin’.
X takes in the words a bit, nodding.
X-Calibur: Fair enough, Az. That all lines up awesomely. Thanks.
Az nods before starting to head to the ring.
X-Calibur: …but when are we having our match, though?
Az grins a bit, but continues to walk.
Azraith: Paint that fuckin’ target and we’ll see.
X smirked. Looking back at Abigail Chase — who stood there somewhat dumbfounded, starstruck even upon witnessing these two legends interact with one another in the way that they just did — he simply stayed silent. From there, he just walked off to… well, wherever he was originally going in the first place.
As his music continues to play, the fans are sending a mixed reaction as Azraith turns back towards Shin. That dead look in his eyes that has been the precursor to two post-match slaughters creeps onto his face as Azraith starts to stalk Shin.
Eryk Masters: Oh man, come on. Not again, Az!
Other Guy: Jacob Mephisto has gotten to Azraith, E. This isn’t going to be good…
The fans begin to boo as Azraith moves in closer to Shin. But suddenly…
TIIIIIIIIME IS ON MY SIIIIIIDE… YES IT IS!
Az whips around to look towards the entrance as The Rolling Stones classic belts over the speakers.
After a couple of seconds, Jacob Mephisto steps out onto the entrance ramp, a microphone in hand. The boos meant for Azraith are instead directed at Mephisto as he smirks, never taking his eyes off Az.
Jacob Mephisto: This… is getting old, my friend.
Mephisto takes just a couple of steps forward to the ramp, but pauses again.
Jacob Mephisto: I didn’t come here tonight for another rerun. Last Revolution, you invited me to come and see.
He takes a few more steps down the ring, those pale, grey eyes growing cold and gleaming with malicious intent.
Jacob Mephisto: I’m here. Show me.
Mephisto points towards Shin.
Jacob Mephisto: Don’t give me this watered down Azraith DeMitri you’ve shown with your last two victims. Show me the beast. Show me the monster. I have come to see. Let. It. Out.
Mephisto throws his head back in laughter and shouts to the sky.
Jacob Mephisto: COME AND SEE!
Az’s hands shake noticeably as he stares intently at Jacob. A slow nod turns into an outright laugh from Azraith as well before walking to the ropes, sitting on the second and pushing the top upwards while grabbing a mic, inviting Jacob in.
Azraith: Come and see, Brother!
Eryk Masters: Azraith has finally lost it. I’ve watched him for years and I’ve never see him this unhinged before.
Jacob’s eyes widen somewhat at the sudden invitation, but after a second of thought, Jacob walks up the steps and through the ropes, joining Azraith in the ring. Az nods again in the affirmative, patting Jacob on the shoulder firmly before turning his back to him, once again focusing on the prone Shin and hauling him to his feet with a single massive hand around his throat. The crowd starts booing, and even Jacob starts shaking his head in disappointment.
Azraith: Wait! WAIT! Trust me, you’re gonna LOVE this one.
Az’s grin grows as he turns once again to Shin, pulling the young man close into a twisted embrace, wrapping his arm around Shin’s back and back up so he can lean down somewhat, the mic placed next to his mouth as he whispers into Shin’s ear.
Azraith: I owe ya one, Shin…
Az’s whispered voice and reverent tone make Jacob’s eyes narrow, but before he can do anything, Azraith throws Shin down and LUNGES at Jacob, the mic dropping with an audible THUD to the mat as two massive hands wrap tightly around Mephisto’s throat, instantly shoving the man into the corner while screaming at him, the mic picking it all up.
Azraith: WHO THE FUCK DO YOU THINK YOU’RE DEALING WITH?! WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU’VE UNLEASHED, ‘BROTHER’?!
The crowd roars it’s approval to see Azraith finally lash out at Jacob, fury boiling over in his eyes as he bears down on him. Jacob’s eyes begin to bulge somewhat as Az’s grin grows.
Other Guy: Azraith seemingly laser focused on Jacob here, and unsurprisingly no one is coming out to stop him!
Azraith: I don’t think you see it yet, Jacob. I think you need to OPEN YOUR EYES.
As if on queue, Jacob’s eyes light up and a bright grin flashes across his rapidly bluing face. Jacob’s hands dart up and rapidly entangle themselves in Azraith’s long hair, and with a vicious tug he pulls Az’s face down to eye level.
Jacob: Come… and… SEE!
With a look that could only be described as ‘gleeful’, Jacob Mephisto spits BLACK MIST into Azraith’s face! One can hear the crowd gasp audibly as Azraith’s hands instantly release from Jacob’s neck, and with another brutal tug Mephisto YANKS Azraith down to his knees. Azraith is audibly screaming in pain, his hands clawing at his face and eyes. Jacob stares down at him a moment before taking a step back and driving a VICIOUS knee-strike right into Az’s skull! Az drops to the mat lifelessly as Jacob looks at his hands nonchalantly, black residue dripping down his chin as he pulls clumps of blue hair out from in-between his fingers.
Jacob leans down, picking up the mic and chuckling, spitting the rest of the black residue onto Az’s face while the beast lies there motionless.
Jacob: My eyes are open Brother, wide and clear. Can you say the same? I know who I’m dealing with. Do you?
Mephisto laughs maniacally, black liquid still dripping from his chins as he drops the mic onto Az’s chest before stepping out of the ring.
Tadakatsu stands backstage in the relaxed athletic gear of a professional athlete who can take it easy, for this night at least. A jogging setup that doesn’t read too hypebeast, sensible athletic shoes. He appears to be jovially discussing some things with Referee Clark Feldman, trading tales, having laughs. From down the hall a voice rings out, like a particularly beaten tenor saxophone getting blasted over a calm din of activity. We know who it is—choice of words and country tone make sure of that.
The Colonel: Hey! You lousy sumbitch!!
There’s some confusion, but the advancing clip of cowboy boots on concrete announce that Haskell Payne is in a full stride sprint—heading directly for Tadakatsu, who turns with a confused look on his face.
Haskell out and out LAUNCHES himself at Tada, clearing a solid 6 feet on a horizontal leap—but is quickly intercepted by building security before he can visit any violence on the mystified owner of the El Camino. Haskell’s eyes are red—he’s somewhere between anguish and fury, spittle popping onto the sparse stubble on his face as he screams.
The Colonel: She was beautiful! She was perfect!! Lemme go you overpaid mall cop motherfuckers!! I’ma knock your teeth out one by one, you gon’ wish you never even heard of me!! You took something so pretty and you corrupted it, it’s shameless what you did!! Shameless!! Disrespectful!! I wanna watch you suffer so you know how I’ve felt every goddamn day since I lost her!!
Finally, Elgin Blair and Robby Bingo come jogging up and help the security guards haul Haskell, quite literally kicking and screaming, back down the hall. Clark looks down the hall, his eyes wide, hand on the back of his head.
Referee Clark Feldman: Jesus! What’d you do to that guy?
Tada looks down the hallway, his eyes narrowing. He considers for a moment, before shaking his head and clapping Clark on the shoulder, taking his leave of the scene in the opposite direction.
The 2020 THOR Coach Challenger RV pulls into the parking lot of the Epicenter. C.K. Butcher’s 1964 modified Divco milk truck in tow. Attached to the front of the RV is a red dolly, and strapped to the dolly using bright yellow tow straps is Elvis Butcher; his arms criss-crossed against his chest. His hair is blown back, his face his bright red, his eyes bloodshot, and cheeks chapped. His eyes twitch in different directions. His jaw pivots in ways a human jaw shouldn’t. He’s held together only by dirty, tattered, jean overalls.
The double doors on the back of pig themed Divco milk truck bust open with authority as the giant Alden Butcher emerges from the vehicle like a giant Jack-in-the-box. He’s wearing his signature stained tunic, and he hasn’t changed his tattered khaki’s in quite some time.
The door slides open for the RV and C.K. Butcher makes his way down the steps to the outside. He’s got his duffle bag around his shoulder, his bandanna tight around his forehead, and his signature Chief Wahoo tank top that’s complemented by torn wrangler jeans tucked into untied Red Wing Irish Setter work boots. He tosses the duffle bag onto the ground and walks over to his brother, the youngest of the Butcher trifecta, Elvis, who is shaking uncontrollably while strapped to the front of the RV.
C.K. Butcher: WOOOOO-WEE! That was some mighty fine masculinity you showed us back there, you little jittery sonuvabitch!
He begins to remove the tow straps that shackle Elvis to the red dolly. Alden walks over to C.K. and taps him on the shoulder. C.K. looks annoyed at the gigantic middle child, but realizes that Alden is getting C.K.’s attention for the parade of security that’s headed their direction. Alden points his gigantic index finger over at the guards who are being escorted toward the Butcher brothers by Brian, the man put in charge by Real Deal, to make certain Elvis and Alden are properly sustained with security masks, gloves, and boots.
Alden Butcher: Kill?
Alden’s voice, deep and hollow, is as much a whisper as he can muster, and C.K. shakes his head as he continues to pull the tow straps from his younger brother.
C.K. Butcher: Well, boys, I belee it’s that time that these motherfuckers do what they have to do to make sure you two don’t fuck up shop.
He tosses the tow straps aside, the dolly still strapped to the grill of the RV, and Elvis leaps down to the concrete surface.
Elvis Butcher: Fuh-fuh-fuh-FUCK! FUCK! FUCKIN’ GOD DAMNIT! FUCK YOU ALL!
He lets out a tourettes ridden roar and tries to charge the oncoming brigade, but he’s stopped by Alden whose right hand engulfs Elvis’ enter face, and skull. He nearly lifts him up by the head, but Elvis pauses immediately, a tourettes filled muffle of cuss words being let out under Alden’s hand.
C.K. Butcher: Go’head, boys. Do yer’thing. Make sure that after you’re done – you go back to Josh Johnson and tell that muhfucker that eventually his son is gon’be a stuffed trophy on a solid oak plaque that’ll look real nice above the fireplace of my new Hell on wheels…
C.K. slaps the grill of the THOR as Brian and security walk over to the two brothers. Alden holds Elvis back as one guard snaps the half Hannibal mask across Elvis’ lower jaw. Alden holds his brothers arms out so that the guards can snap on his gloves, mittens that connect his hands together at the wrists so that he cannot claw anyone. C.K. walks over and grabs Elvis from Alden so that the younger brother doesn’t charge the guards; which is something he’s obviously still trying to do as the elder Butcher brother has to bear hug him to hold him back. The guards put a set of gloves on Alden that connect the knuckles of both his hands so that he has no use of his hands at all. They slide on weighted boots that slow the monster down substantially. One guard has to use a step ladder to apply the half Hannibal mask onto Alden so that he too does not use his mouth as a weapon.
Brian Head of Security: Ok, we’re done here.
The guards pack up anything they’ve brought with them as Brian guides his brigade back toward the Epicenter. C.K. continues to hold on to Elvis. He looks at Alden.
C.K. Butcher: Remind yourself to picture the Scoundrels as that Brian cunt and his poon posse. I gets the feelin’ that you gon’have a field day with those two lil’bastards tonight…
The sound of steel on flesh echoes slightly as a steel chain slams into the skull of Elvis Butcher from off-camera. Elvis, having been caught completely unawares, crumples to the floor.
C.K. whirls around just in time to catch a dented chair to the stomach, doubling him over more in surprise than anything else.
Jacob Mephisto springs into view, snatching C.K. by the back of the neck and his waistband. Mephisto twists around and slings C.K. into the nearest wall.
The suddenness of the attack has all but frozen Alden in place.
Mephisto squats down to a hurt and surprised C.K. Butcher.
Jacob Mephisto: Don’t worry, Butcher. I haven’t forgotten you.
Mephisto chuckles. He looks directly into the camera, those pale grey eyes alight with pure bad intent.
Jacob Mephisto: Come and see.
As Alden finally realizes what has happened in a span of mere seconds, his rage boils to the surface and he begins trying to charge Mephisto, but his restraints and PPE prove to be most effective. Mephisto rises to his feet and smirks at Alden before darting away off-screen.
The Real Deal sits behind his desk, looking through a few papers, probably figuring out the bookings for the next show. Suddenly, the door to his office swings open and a mountain of a man walks through it.
Jonah Silverkin stands in front of the Real Deal’s desk with his hands on his hips.
Jonah Silverkin: Sorry to barge in here like this, boss, but I’ve got a bone to pick!
Real Deal sighs as he looks up.
Real Deal: Let me guess, you’re upset that you weren’t a part of the rumble on Shut Up and Fight?
Jonah Silverkin: What? There was a rumble? I mean… yeah! That’s exactly right! I didn’t come in here to complain about this place not having a finished basement suitable for a good marathon game of D&D. Rolle deception!
Jonah produces a small, plastic, red 20-sided die and rolls it on Real Deal’s desk.
Jonah Silverkin: Aha! A seventeen! That should do it.
Real Deal pinches the bridge of his nose with his fingers.
Real Deal: Look, I don’t have a lot of time right now. If you’re looking for an equal opportunity at the Shut Up and Fight Championship…
Jonah Silverkin: There’s a Shut Up and Fight Championship!? And everyone else has had a chance to get it? Where was I during all of this?
Real Deal is clearly getting annoyed with the situation.
Real Deal: You were probably playing D&D in the basement. Look, I get that you’d want a shot at the title, given that your were the only Soldier not involved in the rumble, but…
Jonah Silverkin: I demand equal recompense, Mr. Deal! I want my shot right here tonight, on Shut Up and Fight!
He rolls the d20 again. This time, he cringes.
Jonah Silverkin: Oof. A 9. Probably a no-go on the intimidation check.
Real Deal: Well, first off, it’s Monday. So we’re at Revolution. But, you know what? I’ll give you a title shot. Not tonight though. It’s gonna be at a later date.
Jonah Silverkin: Must’ve rolled pretty bad on insight, eh?
Real Deal: Yeah, you can leave now.
Jonah seems to get the point. He nods and quickly moves out of the office.
The scene cuts to the Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas, NV, home of the Las Vegas Raiders and the UNLV Rebels. Families are inside the stadium with masks covering their faces, social distancing around the field. On the giant display board above the field reads: “FAMILY DAY AT THE PARK”, and cameras are catching several of the families having a picnic on the turf, while others are tossing around a football with their children, no older than ten. Everything seems to be peaceful, everyone seems to be happy.
YOU’VE GOT THE TOUCH!
The voice of the greatest 80s singer of our times booms through the stadium. The families on the turf stop what they’re doing, and begin looking around. Out from the home team’s locker room strolls a gaggle of people led, of course, by Dan Stein. Dan walks out slowly, his hand over his sunglass-covered eyes, wincing at the light.
Molly: I told you not to go out dri…
Stein puts up his hand to stop her. The group of people, including Johnny Patriot, the unbiased official Ref Clark Feldman, and Toni and Tina, Stein’s bodyguards, step onto the field.
Johnny Patriot: What a lovely day for FREEDOM to win a three legged race!
The music fades, and the families go back to doing what they were before MCGA arrived. Stein looks back at Patriot, gingerly, and nods before bending over with his hands on his knees.
Dan Stein: Yeah…can’t wait.
Johnny Patriot: Daniel, you sound unsure. If we are losing, I will do everything in my power to help us win! By the power vested in me by our forefathers, I will carry you across that finish line!
Stein snaps a finger up and points at Patriot.
Dan Stein: Don’t carry me. Please, Johnny. Tell me you won’t carry me. I’d rather step into the ring with any member of Project: SCAR than have you carry me.
Johnny Patriot: Alright, Citizen Daniel, I won’t carry you.
Patriot winks at Molly. Stein sees it, and just hangs his head. Patriot rubs the back of Stein’s head, but Stein is in too much pain to move. Ref Clark, who is carrying the necessary equipment for the event, breaks off from the group to set up the race. Stein points in the general direction of Toni and Tina.
Dan Stein: Bucket…BUCKET!
One of them slides a bucket underneath Stein’s face and Dan unleashes the fury of a thousand angry drinks into it. Molly immediately turns around, herself dry heaving. Patriot pats Stein on the back.Stein wipes his face, still bent over the bucket.
Johnny Patriot: Get it out, little buddy. Like the evil Unholy Cyber Army being pushed out of the great Tag Team Division, get. it. out.
Stein looks up at Patriot and then quickly snaps his head back to the bottom of the bucket, hurling again into the bucket.
Into the frame step the Unholy Cyber Army contingent: CYBER Power Devil, CYBER Superbeast, and Nate Robideau. All three are in athletic gear, with Power Devil and Superbeast rocking cut off Megadeth sleeveless half shirts. The tag team stands with their hands on their hips, gigantic and scowling, while Nate steps forward to the bent over Stein and his associates.
Robideau: Are you feeling well enough to do this, Dan? I do not want you to compete with any sort of ready excuse.
Stein gives Nate a slow thumbs up.
Dan Stein: Good enough to beat you two idiots.
Molly: That’s Nate, Dan.
Stein stands up, wiping his face with a handkerchief from his pocket, then throws it into the bucket.
Dan Stein: …Those two idiots.
Ref Clark Feldman, done setting up the course on the field, walks over to the group of people.
Ref Clark Feldman: So, not that I don’t enjoy doing this on my day off, but could we…
He gestures towards the field
Ref Clark Feldman: …y’know, get this going?
Superbeast: The Referee Clarkston Feldman is correct! Stein! Dog!
Power Devil: Jackal!
Superbeast: Pretender! Enough of your stalling and petty trickery! You have been bested once with the might of my bicep, now you will be bested twice by the combined might of the Unholy Cyber Army!! We will be joined as a Voltron of sinew and muscle and we will beat you in this or any other competition, that we may taste your blood on our scythes!!
Many of the families are now staring over at this gathering. Most with confusion. Some are deciding that maybe today isn’t the best day for a picnic, but others have decided to gather closer out of curiosity. Ref Clark gestures to the goal line on the field. UCA makes their way determinedly to their spot on the field, while Patriot tries to urge Stein on. Stein saunters over to his spot. Ref Clark places the zip tie around the ankles of Superbeast and Power Devil. Nate looks over to Molly.
Robideau: You know this cannot be contested, right?
Molly: What do you mean?
Robideau: I mean no offense by this…but if Dan tries to squirrel his way out of the results of this race when the Cyber Army wins, i cannot promise my friends will not want to scrap. The result has to be the result.
Molly looks over at Stein and nods.
Molly: At this point, I think Dan is too hungover to contest anything.
Ref Clark then walks over to Patriot and Stein, squatting down. Patriot pats Ref Clark on the head, but Ref Clark slaps it away!
Ref Clark Feldman: There will be no fraternizing with me today, Johnny Patriot!
Stein smirks at Patriot as he draws his hand back gingerly. Stein shakes his head, looking over at UCA.
Dan Stein: Make sure it’s tight, Ref. Don’t want any excuses from the CYBER dorks when I win.
Johnny Patriot: When we win.
Stein looks up at Patriot.
Dan Stein: Yeah, when we win.
Ref Clark nods, and locks the zip tie up tightly. Stein exaggeratedly winces as the zip tie pinches his skin, then stands up straight to mock the UCA’ intensity. Ref Clark walks out between the two groups of men to the five yard line.
Ref Clark Feldman: Alright, men, as you can see, I’ve set up cones every five yards from here to the fifty yard line! You are to stay inside those cones. This isn’t NASCAR, so I don’t want to see any bumping, I don’t want to see any rubbing, but if you think drafting is going to get you an advantage… well, you’re dumb, but have at it. You step outside those cones, you’re disqualified! You push your opponents over that line, you’re disqualified! You trip someone, you’re disqualified!
Ref Clark looks at Stein, directly.
Ref Clark Feldman: If you get disqualified, you lose. If you lose, you don’t choose the stipulation of the match at Redemption! I will not hesitate to disqualify you. Just because I’m the new guy doesn’t make me a pushover. Don’t test me, Dan Stein.
Stein lifts his hands up, as if claiming his innocence.
Dan Stein: I’m just here to have a good time, Ref.
Ref Clark nods, then speaks to UCA.
Ref Clark: CYBER Superbeast, are you ready?
Ref Clark: …okay.
Ref Clark looks over at MCGA.
Ref Clark: Johnny Patriot, are you ready?
Johnny Patriot: As ready as an Apple Pie on the Fourth of July!
Stein, Molly, and Ref Clark all look at Johnny Patriot with confusion. Ref Clark shakes his head, and looks at Stein.
Ref Clark: Dan Stein, are you ready?
Stein throws up his hands.
Dan Stein: Whatever.
Ref Clark sighs, muttering under his breath about his day off again. Clark puts up his hands.
Ref Clark: Gentlemen, on your marks!
UCA stand up straight, then bend over in a sprinter’s stance, putting their arms around each other’s necks.
Ref Clark: Get set!
Johnny Patriot grabs Stein around the shoulders to bring him in, but Stein looks incredibly uncomfortable. Ref Clark shakes his head, putting the race pistol in the sky and firing it.
Ref Clark: GO!
As soon as he fires off, we cut to black–the thrilling conclusion saved for later.
“Forfeit” by Chavelle begins to play throughout the SHOOT Project Epicenter as the fans rise to their feet and witness the entrance to one of the most unique and esoteric trifectas in the industry. The crowd releases a mixed reaction as most people are still unsure how to handle the trio from the Blue Ridge. The Blue Ridge Butchers begin to make their way to the stage.
C.K. Butcher is the first out of the gorilla position as he takes a moment to wait for Alden who is weighed down by special boots SHOOT Project security placed on him earlier tonight. C.K., wearing his typical wrestling attire, is obviously still feeling the effects of an attack by Jacob Mephisto earlier in the evening that left the three brothers clutching cement. The older brother rubs the back of his head while Alden slowly trudges his way onto the stage.
Suddenly, bouncing off Alden, and fiercely throwing himself toward C.K., is the younger sibling, the jean overall wearing, tourette riddled Elvis, who uncontrollably begins to shout muffles of incoherence toward the crowd through a half Hannibal mask that contains him from biting anyone he comes into contact with. Both Elvis and Alden wear special gloves, each man with a circumstantial pair that are unique to the individual. Alden’s gloves lock the knuckles of both hands together so that he cannot use his bear paws, while Elvis’ mittens lock both wrists together so that he cannot claw and maim.
The mammoth Alden, dressed in his signature tunic and tattered khakis, the tallest SHOOT soldier, continues slowly, Frankenstein-esque, guiding himself down the ramp as C.K. and Elvis Butcher make their way toward the ring. Two SHOOT Project security guards patiently wait for the brothers to arrive at the ring apron where they’re ready with keys to unlock Alden’s protective equipment. C.K. guides Elvis toward one guard who has a thick steel chain with a carabiner that’s designed to lock into the back of Elvis’s half Hannibal mask and keep him subjugated like a dog outside the ring while his brothers wrestle. C.K. then walks over to Alden and eases him toward another guard who is there to unlock the equipment and unleash the beast.
The gloves come off. Alden stretches his fingers, and cracks his knuckles. Another guard assists in removing the weighted boots. The mask is removed by a guard standing on the ring apron to level himself with the seven foot, two inch gargantuan. C.K. slides into the ring as Alden reaches passed the guard and grabs a rope. He pulls himself up with ease onto the apron, and then steps over the top rope and enters the ring. They await the Sin City Scoundrels, but not without Alden walking next to C.K. in the center of the ring and bellowing in his deep, hollow voice for all the SHOOT faithful to hear: “KILL!” He exclaims.
The screen is pitch black.
There is nothing.
Then, a small whisper. A slight whisper. It is tiny.
The light comes in slowly but surely until it comes upon the visage of a tall monstrous beast of a man. His hair is silvery white, stringy, cascading down his face. Behind it is a toothy grin with chapped lips, cracking and dry. Above that grin are the eyes, faded grey and bloodshot. The man stands there in a full black gear with silver designs interspersed throughout. It is hard to discern what he is wearing or how big he is or really anything about him. But that whisper? That slight tiny whisper? That belongs to him.
“I have been alone in thought, curiously pondering how I should set foot in this place. Should I, I don’t know, strive for a splash? Maybe attack someone people care about? Should I toy with the notions of being some sort of mystifying creature? Some otherworldly being or deity you should fear or revere?”
The camera zooms in on his face. We are left with his eyes, hollow and vacant, clawing for any sort of feeling or emotion.
“This will be simple enough. I’m Thomas. You may call me Void. If you want to call me Thomas, I don’t mind, but I am Void. Void is me. It is my mission, my life, my longing, and my dream. Go ahead. Google it. A void is empty. Completely empty. A fresh start. A new start. A great start. That is me. That is who I am. What I want.”
He steps back, letting his grin come back into view.
“Do you have a dream? A hope? A goal? So do I. I am Void. I am my dream. I am my hope. I am my goal. I do not seek to be yours. What I seek to do is show you. Show you what can be. What should be. What will be. But you have to let me. I am not a leader. I am not a follower. I am no soldier. I am no commander. All I want, all I need, all I am, is this. Perhaps that is confusing. Perhaps I am confusing. That is okay. We don’t always get the answers we seek in the first chapter. In the prologue. My story begins here. You shall be my viewer. My reader. My audience. Let us go into this together because there is one thing you must know.”
He slowly lifts one finger to the camera.
“I know how this story begins. I know how it ends. I know who the hero is. I know who the villain is. I know where this will go. But right now, right here, we are in the nothing. We are here in the darkness. Our story, like all things, begins here. In the dark. In the void. Please, my audience, allow me. Because in this void…”
The lights come up to reveal Void in his totality. Tall, muscular, dressed to compete in a professional wrestling ring. He wears a black singlet top with tights and black boots with silver highlights. He holds his arms out, revealing that he stands alone in an empty room. With him in this room is nothing.
“…we are free. Now, please. Come with me. Be free. Become one with the Void. Become one…with me.”
The blackness returns, showing Void alone yet again enveloped in darkness. His voice returns to its small whisper, almost childlike in its tone and tenor.
We see the announce table, where Eryk Masters and Other Guy are looking down, both holing their headsets to their ears.
Eryk Masters: Folks we are…we’re getting word there’s been an incident backstage. Production guys, do we have a feed?
The video cuts to backstage. We see a brawny security guard walking with purpose, until he spots something down the hall and exclaims.
Security Guard: Shit!
Running now, in front of the camera, we shakily see the guard grab his walkie talkie and yell into it.
Security Guard: We need EMTs in the backstage hallway, Service Entrance D, asap!!
He comes upon something altogether unexpected—as the camera shake slows down with the cameraman’s pace slowing down, we can see a body on the ground. It’s a male, tall—his bright yellow and red singlet has been torn from the shoulders and lays bunched around his waist. He is covered in red marks and superficial wounds, but his black hair lays matted in a pool of blood.
Off-camera: What the fuck…?
As the camera pushes past the shoulder of the security, we can see that though he’s laying in blood, his face has been covered by a cheap plastic mask, featureless, white. The guard kneels down and pulls it away, slowly. The inside is streaked bright red. The face is vaguely familiar, even with its busted lip and eyes almost swollen shut. The nose is misshapen. His breath is ragged. The guard winces and holds up his walkie talkie again.
Security Guard: Where the hell are the EMTs?! It’s that Adam Bomb kid, someone beat him half to death—Hurry!!
The feed cuts back to the announce table, showing both members of the commentary team looking entirely shocked.
Other Guy: No, seriously, what the hell was that?!
Eryk Masters: Someone, uh, possibly has taken issue with El Hijo del Adam bomb, and–
Other Guy: Not even close. I’ve been in this business, I’ve seen backstage beatdowns. That wasn’t someone trying to get one over on a wrestler, Eryk! That was the fallout of someone sending a message!
Masters sighs deeply and looks over to his commentary partner with his jaw set.
Eryk Masters: OG…I’m worried you might be right.
As Devan Derbyshire exits the ring after his hard-earned victory, Mephisto pulls himself to a seated position.
He glares out at his victorious opponent for a moment, but begins to laugh. His pale, grey eyes come alive with glee as he staggers to a standing position.
After a few seconds pass, he motions for a microphone and his request is granted.
The fans rain down boos as Mephisto drinks it all in, catching his breath.
Jacob Mephisto: Tonight… tonight has marked a truly… grand occasion.
The fans never stop booing.
Eryk Masters: I’m sure most people wouldn’t think what that man did to Azraith and C.K. Butcher was grand.
Other Guy: Azraith DeMitri attacked first, Masters. But, yeah, jumping the Butchers wasn’t cool… or smart, if you ask me.
Mephisto begins pacing in the ring.
Jacob Mephisto: You see, tonight, not only did I show the world that Azraith DeMitri is not the monster you think he is, but I made sure that the Blueridge Butchers know their place!
Crowd: ASS-HOLE! ASS-HOLE!
Jacob Mephisto: You people are so blind. You are so easily fooled into a false sense of security. You think a single loss to an up and comer like Devan Derbyshire means anything? You… are… fools. But, fear not! I have come to lead you into a new era… a better era. I have read the EMPYREAN CODEX. I know what is coming. Come and See! All… Hail…
Mephisto is cut off suddenly by the sounds of Forfeit by Chevelle and the crowd… cheers!
Other Guy: …and this is why it wasn’t smart!
Eryk Masters: Oh…my…GOD!
The crowd erupts in response to what is assumed to become a brawl in the Epicenter between the scorned Butchers and the battle worn Mephisto. A smirk appears on Jacob’s face, his stance is open, and he clenches his fists. That’s when every eye in the Epicenter sees it, and it’s a true sight to be seen…
Other Guy: Is that…?l
Eryk Masters: Alden Butcher on a hoverboard? YES!
Other Guy: There are things in life that shouldn’t happen…
Mephisto’s brow comes to a centered southern point as he witnesses the largest man in SHOOT Project, Hannible masked, his fists locked together at the knuckles using protective gloves, is guiding his weighted boots toward the ring using a hoverboard. Alden suddenly angles forward and wrecklessly picks up steam down the ramp. He’s weaving, left to right-right to left.
Other Guy: …ahhhh…and this is why! S-O-S! He’s goin’ down!!
Eryk Masters: Brace yourself, OG!
Mephisto slides two steps back because he begins to realize Alden is heading straight for the ring apron. That’s when the crowd’s vociferous satisfaction erupts further. Elvis Butcher, his wrists locked together by protective mittens, Hannible masked, runs out onto the stage and down the ramp challenging Usain Bolt Olympic speeds. Before Alden hits the ring apron he flings his body off the hoverboard and flies headfirst toward the ring where he hits a roll.
Other Guy: It’s tourettes time! Elvis has joined the party and damn is that boy fast!
Eryk Masters: Big man is now in the ring, but will he be able to get up?
Alden rolls toward Mephisto who has wasted no time and stomps on Alden with sufficient right boots while the younger brother, Elvis, leaps and slides headfirst into the ring. Mephisto ceases kicking Alden while down, which hasn’t done much to the big man who struggles to get to his feet simply because he’s weighted down and hands are bound. Jacob turns his attention to Elvis who has leaped up to his feet ridiculously fast. The short Butcher rushes toward the self proclaimed Greatest former Sin City champion.
Eryk Masters: Wait!
Other Guy: From the crowd!
Elvis’ arms are raised in an attempt for an axe handle but his gut is met with a stiff right from Mephisto that causes the tourettes riddled Butcher to flip forward and somersault toward the opposite set of ropes.
Other Guy: Here comes big brother Butcher!
The crowd continues to shout their appreciation for moments like this. Leaping the barricade and immediately sliding into the ring is an angry C.K. Butcher. His momentum pushes him up onto his feet and he leaps at the back of Mephisto and slugs him with an intense right forearm to the cerebellum that sends Jacob tumbling forward. Mephisto lands onto the canvas but is smart enough to roll under the ropes and out of the ring. He begins to quickly jog backward up the ramp with a half smirk as his eyes catch C.K.’s livid visage.
Eryk Masters: Mephisto’s record against the rookie class continues to suffer, and it’s because of that man right there…
Other Guy: It’s apparent that C.K. and Mephisto will have unfinished business for some time, because I don’t think this battle is over by a long shot.
C.K. hits the ropes with force and smacks the top rope furiously, obviously annoyed that Mephisto has exited the fight and is heading to the back. The elder Butcher points his index and middle finger at his eyes, and then at Mephisto; twice. His smile is calculated, and his eyes sharp, as Mephisto hits the stage and then disappears into the crowd of SHOOT security who are heading toward the ring to pacify any other possible problem the Butcher brothers may cause.
Eryk Masters: Johnson’s task force has arrived. The Butchers will never be able to cause chaos in the Epicenter as long as Real Deal is alive…
Butcher continues to smile ear-to-ear, and the SHOOT faithful continue their satisfactory cheers, all whilst Alden finds a home hunched in a corner and Elvis hugs the ropes. Security slowly pushes forward and signals for the Butchers to leave the ring.
What shows is a tight shot of a computer monitor, and a paused video of the three-legged race. The mouse comes alive and presses play, and we see the Unholy Cyber Army handily outpacing MCGA. Stein, entirely gassed, screams out “NOW!”—and a father on the sidelines actually PUSHES his son in front of Power Devil and Superbeast—then men take a tumbling leap to avoid the child and crash into a heap on the grass!! MCGA limp across the finish line, and Clark Feldman whistles the race over. The mouse presses pause.
The camera pans out to the suddenly crowded office of The Real Deal, Josh Johnson. The room is occupied by Superbeast and Power Devil, both holding ice to their scraped faces. Nate Robideau, standing at military attention, looking positively fed up at the display. Molly in a seat next to Dan Stein—the former shaking her head softly, the latter slumped over in shades, possibly asleep. Johnny Patriot stands, shirtless for some reason, holding both of the Tag Titles. Real Deal scans the room before sighing.
Real Deal: So, let me get this straight. Nate, you and Molly agree that the result of the race has to hold. Dan, in his trademark mixture of cunning, laziness, and outright cowardice, bribes a local father to push his kid in front of the Cyber Army–
Stein raises a finger to object, but Real Deal cuts him off
Real Deal: …TMZ already released the footage at the bar the night before, Dan…
Real Deal: …and now your camps are in a bit of a stalemate regarding the stipulation for the Tag Championship match at Redemption. Cyber Army would just as soon beat you guys half to death for that, and I…look, I empathize guys, I really do. But beating them up in the parking lot isn’t exactly good business for me.
Power Devil: These sour charlatans deserve that and more! A child! A defenseless child, against the locomotive might of the Unholy Cyber Army at full speed?! Your bones will become a monument of sorrow!!
Robideau: Power Devil, hold–
Dan Stein: Is one of them talking? I don’t speak “shitty high school metal band lyrics.”
The contingents begin to jaw at one another—well, the Cyber Army and Patriot do, with Nate and Molly attempting to keep the peace while Stein sits in his chair, talking smack behind his sunglasses and making an exaggerated jack-off motion. Everyone is talking over one another, but we can clearly hear things such as “BLOOD ANGEL” and “DON’T TREAD ON ME”. After maybe 30 seconds of absolute chaos, Real Deal stands up and slams his palms on his desk.
Real Deal: Hey! HEY!! Enough!! Or so help me, I’ll have every one of you barred from the arena and suspended for the next two months.
The calamity calms down. Nate steps forward.
Robideau: Mr. Johnson, clearly you can see there was malicious cheating executed by Stein.
Dan Stein: I played by the rules. I didn’t touch any of you, and we definitely made it the entire length of the race, while U-C-A, well…
Again, Stein shrugs.
Robideau: Surely you can see it clear to provide us the rights to determine the stipulation for the championship bout?
At this, Dan Stein makes an exaggerated, lip rumbling sigh.
Dan Stein: Prison must have softened you up quite a bit, man. Considering you hide behind those 4Chan geeks.
There is an immediate hush over the room as everyone—even Molly and Patriot—look over to Dan with shock. Robideau turns, flexing his fists, his eyes absolutely livid. Stein remains motionless behind his hangover shades.
Real Deal: Nate, don’t–
Nate turns and SLAMS his fist onto the boss’ desk. He is breathing heavily, the veins in his sizable neck popping. He takes a moment, breathes deep, then points his hand to Stein.
Robideau: Me. Against any competitor that braying jackass chooses. I lose, they get their stipulation. I win, we get ours. I am asking. Please. Before I make this man piss himself in his suffering.
Josh looks to Molly and Stein. Dan shrugs, then gestures to Real Deal.
Dan Stein: Whatever. How about those two hillbilly Hannibal Lecter nerds?
Real Deal: The Blue Ridge Butchers?
Dan Stein: Yeah, the Blue Man Group or whoever. Have Captain Takes-Himself-Too-Seriously square off against them.
Real Deal: Nate, do you ag–
Robideau: Accept. Accept!
He turns and begins to storm off, the shocked Cyber Army joining him—before turning back around.
Robideau: I hope the might of the Unholy Cyber Army breaks you down to your component pieces, Dan. But mostly? I hope you feel shame about who you have decided to become.
The Cyber Army contingent stomp out of the office, leaving MCGA. Stein lowers the sunglasses on his nose, then starts to ring an imaginary bell.
Dan Stein: Shame! Shame! Shame!
The bell stops. Stein puts the sunglasses back up on the bridge of his nose, then puts his feet on Real Deal’s desk.
Dan Stein: Shame? Does this dude know me at all?
Molly: Apparently not.
Real Deal sighs, then throws Stein’s feet off of his desk.
Real Deal: Just…Christ, just go.
Stein himself sighs.
Dan Stein: Yep, smells like a brothel in here anyways.
The camera fades as Patriot helps Stein up out of the chair and to his feet, and Stein is gathered out of the room.
It has been weeks since we’ve last seen her, but the surroundings are as familiar as the face of a friend: The tent, dusty and battered under a tarpaulin. The beaten truck, either powder blue by design or a darker shade bleached by the years. The smoldering fire pit, the threadbare camping chair. The arrangement of animal bones in a crude, grisly cross, drilled and lashed to a rock formation with screws, nails, glue, and plumber’s tape. This is what Charlie Jay Hitchens calls home.
CJH: Travel can broaden one’s horizons.
We hear her from behind the camera, and the soft pad of her slow steps as she walks to the camera and pick it up, rearranging it on a cooler to take in a new angle. She has changed from one set of filthy clothes to another, her dirty blonde hair held from her face by a red bandanna. Her busted eye seems to be almost fully healed, though her nose has taken on a new lump—likely not properly set after getting broken. She walks over to her box, well over the size of a refrigerator, the wooden crate itself dusty from the surroundings. Sitting on it, she picks up a nearby jug of distilled water and has a mighty chug before splashing some on her face.
CJH: Gave me plenty of time to read. Plenty of time to reflect. Plenty of time for prayer.
She pours some water into her hands and begins rubbing them together before drying them off with the bottom of her ratty t-shirt.
CJH: “For the righteous will rejoice when he sees the vengeance. He will bathe his feet in the blood of the wicked.”
Her voice, as ever retains it’s affectation: Slow, deliberate, truck tires peeling out on a gravel driveway.
CJH: Relaxed. So Relaxed. Happy now, maybe for the first time in years. You deserve it. Most do. Others are charged with a greater purpose, and a greater purpose does not always mean a more noble one. That’s the mistake you made. To assign some sort of subjective mortal morality to the actions of those who are not yours to judge. Like you could sit there and judge a hurricane for eating up an entire beachfront community or an earthquake for rattling a building to bits of frame. You ain’t never judged one of them, have you? Because they just…happen.
She almost smiles, looking towards the unforgiving sky.
CJH: Just happen.
She walks off-camera, returning with a bundle of dried twig branches in one arm and the skinned haunch of some unfortunate beast in the other. She drops them both on the ground near the fire spot, seemingly uncaring for the sand or the flies that cling to the raw meat. She looks down. Thinking.
CJH: Remember that. Remember “These things just happen.” Remember how you handwave all manner of suffering and destruction to “an act of God.” Remember that and make your peace.
She walks back to the box. Runs her hand along it like it’s a prized possession. She does smile, possibly the first time we’ve ever seen it—it looks foreign on her face, closer to a wince or the rictus of death. She closes her eyes with her hand still on it and recites again.
CJH: “Clouds and thick darkness are all around him; righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne. Fire goes before him and burns up his adversaries all around. His lightnings light up the world; the earth sees and trembles. The mountains melt like wax before the Lord…”
She opens her eyes and walks towards the camera, picking it up with a rattle. She holds it to her face, throwing into sharp clarity her collection of scars, pockmarks, and lumps.
CJH: These things just happen.
The feed goes black.
From Charlie’s video, we are immediately returned to the announce desk with Eryk Masters and the Other Guy, who are once again holding their headphones to their ears, listening in.
Other Guy: We’ve gotten word of ANOTHER incident in the back, and we’re still waiting on a feed to show you.
Eryk Masters: You’d figure that they’d just be, you know, posted up back there or something…
The camera cuts to the back, and you immediately see a crowd of medical workers and SHOOT Project staff huddled around someone, and that someone is…
Joshua Breedlove: I CAN’T believe this. What kind of INSTITUTION are you running here?! MY FACE.
Breedlove is bloodied and his left eye is swollen shut.
Staff: Do you have any idea who did this? Did you see them?
Breedlove shoves the staff member away.
Breedlove: ARE YOU KIDDING ME? WHAT KIND OF A SICK JOKE IS THAT? DID I SEEEEE THEM? LOOK AT MY EYE. I DIDN’T SEE ANYTHING. LOOK AT MY FACE, OH NOOOOO.
Staff: Sorry, that’s my bad. Was it a roster member? Someone else?
Breedlove: I have NO idea, idiot. One minute, I was sitting here, Tweeting… gramming… you know, the whole deal, and the next… BAM. I LOST MY EYE. IT’S GONE… SOMEONE CALL MY DOCTOR.
Staff: Sir, it’s… it’s not gone, it’s just swollen and bruised.
Breedlove: BRUISED. GONE. SAME THING. HOW LONG WAS I OUT?
Staff: You… you weren’t unconscious. In fact… it looks like whoever attacked you took it easy on you, which is a lot different from how the other one of these tonight looked…
Breedlove is indignant.
Breedlove: This isn’t the first one of these? IS THIS A ZOO? FUCK.
The camera returns to Eryk Masters and the Other Guy.
Other Guy: So, I’m not saying I’m right, but…
Eryk Masters: Yeah, but it’s so different from the other one.
Other Guy: Joshua Breedlove is an obnoxious loudmouth, but I don’t think that means he should have his face damaged like that. That’s just not right. First, El Hijo del Adam Bomb and now… Joshua Breedlove.
Eryk Masters: I don’t really know what to say to that, OG, so instead… we’ll have more on this as it develops, I guess, but now… it’s time for the MAIN EVENT of the evening!