He walks down a corridor in the outer perimeter of the Epicenter. No Proper Villainz by his side. Nobody at all by his side, actually. Just the SHOOT Project Iron Fist Championship slung beautifully over a leather jacket he recently had custom made out of his own pocket. On the back is a logo that mocks the cross of Christianity. Instead of a cross with two hands forming a cup, there’s two hands– each adorned in iron gauntlets– forming “fists” underneath a prominently featured “X” symbol. Rays of light are emphasized around this by an endless array of lines, each drawn with the intent of representing a ray of light beaming out from this symbol of hope.
The symbol of an Iron GOD.
Without worrying about being accosted by some wayward fan on the prowl for a restroom after downing one too many shitty tasting Budweisers, or other such porcupine piss tasting draughts, X-Calibur walks with an intense focus. It’s clear that he’s looking for someone in particular.
X-Calibur: [into his cell] Nah. Ain’t heard a fuckin’ word from him, man. After CONQUEST it’s like… it’s like he went into a self-imposed exile. I dunno. Maybe he’ll pop up soon. But, right now? We got a problem.
The Hall of Famer nods as he continues to walk around the perimeter of the Epicenter.
X-Calibur: That’s just it. This weird fuckin’ curtain jerkin’ Tammy Ames attention whore monger or whatever the fuck her name and shtick is has been hollerin’ at him on Spitter all month and he hasn’t responded once. Not that I would want him too, of course, but (…) yep, you get it. (…) Oh you know who I’m talking about. The one that Mikey probably got spots on his dick from? (…) Hahahaha. Yes. HER.
He pauses for a moment, still nodding.
X-Calibur: Point is, my fuckin’ off the reservation SON was SUPPOSED to be here tonight to beat the everlovin’ fuck outta that one and (…) yep. Precisely. He hasn’t shown his face at all. Not once. This just (…) yeah (…) yeah, this just strikes me as odd. I mean, this is the kinda match he’d love to have. (…) Well, he’d probably melt her face off with a verbal heater or three and then knock her empty head the fuck off her unevenly tanned, scaly-skinned shoulders in the middle of the ring. (…) Yep, agreed.
The Iron Fist Champion makes his way back into the main area of the Epicenter, beyond the concessions and seating directories. He began to see more SHOOT personnel moving to and fro from the backstage area, right past docking.
X-Calibur: I don’t know if this shit is a “I lost to Buck and it pisses me off!” kinda thing, if it’s a “Buck made me tap when my pain threshold is supposed to be inhuman!” issue of his pride being bruised, or if he’s just trying to rebound from injuries that he might’ve sustained and hasn’t told anyone yet. Regardless, he should be here right now, Provocatin’ the STDs out of that fuckin’ sloppy b-
He stops. Fully. Michael Van Warren, his little brother, REIGN frequenter and international superstar via Monarch, is speaking with an agent in the back. No fucking clue what his name is.
X-Calibur: – hold up. I’ll call you back. (…) yeah. Just had an interesting idea.
Click. He slides his cell into his pocket and walks right up to his six-foot-five “little” brother of his.
X-Calibur: Well, well, well. Look who managed to find his way to Vegas again. What, New Orleans, Japan, and Los Angeles not e-fucking-nuff to occupy your time these days?
Michael Van Warren turns from facing what’s his nuts to look his older brother directly between the eyes.
X-Calibur: Hey, don’t take my name in vain. Not cool, baby bro. Hey, where’s that shiny little BALDERDASH OnStar Championship you had last time I saw you?
MvW: Ohhh, right, right, riiiight!. This is where you play the part of the SHOOT Project veteran downplaying the significance of a title somebody won outside of the promotion. Got it. If you mean the BRAZEN Onslaught Championship? This isn’t SHOOT circa 2003. I don’t need to wear a title in every promo, show, or segment to remind people how awesome or unbeatable I think I am.
X-Calibur: Ohhh look at you! Gettin’ shooty in SHOOT with a SHOOT Hall of Famer! With your Iron G-
MvW: Duuuude. Enough with the God complex. You’re one embarrassing loss away from slipping into the mid-card, calling yourself God’s Champion, and changing your name to Paul Jarvis.
X-Calibur: Oof, Mikey. That was- wait, a Paul Jarvis reference? Jesus Christ. Somebody’s been keeping up on their SHOOT History. I’m proud of you, Mikey. But how far did you actually go back? Did you get to the amazing Eli Storm World Title run? Did you watch Jonnylution yet? Did you get to the greatest moment in SHOOT Project history and see me beat Rocky Stellar in an Iron Chef match? Not that anyone here and NOW will get your lame as fuck references, but… props for trying and all, oh righteous ass student of the fucking game.
Finally wavering in his steel demeanor, Mikey heaves a frustrated sigh.
MvW: The fuck you want, man? I’m just visiting folks and looking to talk over some contract specifics with MONARCH. I really don’t have the time or patience for dealing with you.
X-Calibur: Your assumptions are cringeworthy, Mikey. It’s not about what I want. It’s about what you need.
MvW shakes his head and goes to take off, but X grabs his baby brother’s arm and stops him cold. X gets right in his face as his eyes narrow. The barbs being thrown between the two were done. The Iron God is teetering on getting “biblical” with the unproven upstart.
X-Calibur: This is where I pivot from playing the part of a SHOOT Project Veteran downplaying a meaningless championship from a meaningless promotion down in the fucking gulf swamps and take on the role of the guy who just owned Azraith Fucking DeMitri at CONQUEST in another hour plus match. This is where you show some motherfucking respect to the ONLY Four-Fucking-Time Iron Fist Champion before HE decides to put the half-blood between us aside and cripple your undeveloped ass for not shutting the fuck up and listening to the proposition that could MAKE YOUR DAMN CAREER.
Silence. Michael sighs.
MvW: Alright. I’ll bite. I’ll probably regret it but I’ll bite.
X-Calibur: You need to take Arthur’s place tonight.
MvW: You CAN’T be s-
X-Calibur: As a heart attack, I’m afraid.
Michael clearly doesn’t even know what to think of this.
MvW: Why?! Just because he’s being a flake right now, you expect ME to cover his crazy ass?!
X-Calibur: Do you REALLY need a reason to wrestle on REVOLUTION for the first time in your career? Do you REALLY need a reason to finally man up and take part in something greater and longer lasting than this World Warrior or BRAZEN, or REIGN bullshit?! I thought you were smarter than this. I thought you were smarter than three-quarters of the empty-headed second generation sacks of mediocrity back in that locker room. Hell, I thought you were smarter than even me at your age. Fuck, kid. I was wrong.
X shakes his head.
X-Calibur: I’ll just fuck off now, if it pleases you.
X starts walking away, but Michael now grabs X’s shoulder.
MvW: Wait, Eryk. Okay. You’re right. I have wanted to compete on Revolution. For a long time, now. I’d be lying if I said I’ve always wanted the opp-
X grabs Michael’s throat and pushes him back towards the wall, catching the attention of nearby officials who aren’t quite sure what to make of this increasingly serious family squabble.
Incensed. Enraged, even, X grits his teeth and screams in his half-brother’s face.
X-Calibur: Then… WAKE THE FUCK UP, MIKE! ‘CAUSE HERE IT FUCKING IS. RIGHT IN FUCKING FRONT OF YOU!
X relinquishes his hold and pie faces Michael. He does it again until Michael swats his hand away. Saying nothing, Michael just… fumes. But at the same time, Michael can clearly feel the intensity of the Iron GOD.
X-Calibur: Go get your gear. I’ll square it away with Real Deal ‘cause I’m more than sure he doesn’t want his show fucked up from a no show.
MvW: But just so we’re clear? I’m not doing this for you. Or those Proper Villainz assholes you run with now. I’m doing this for me. I’m doing this for-
He stops and thinks.
MvW: Wait. Who’s my opponent? And, where is Arthur?
X tries to stifle a laugh but it escapes anyway.
X-Calibur: You’re facing someone you actually have some history with. Hope you enjoyed bedding her, because you’re going to need to physically assault her tonight. You’re facing…
MvW: Fuck. You son of a bitch. It’s Teresa, isn’t it?
X shrugs as if to say, “Oh well.”.
MvW: Why don’t YOU go face her, then?! If it’s so important to cover for Arthur…
X-Calibur: Heh. Why would I want to beat the shit out a SHOOTtube star? How’s she gonna flutter those fingers and wave her hands with a broken fucking arm?
X smirks and walks away. Michael just leans back against the wall and smacks the back of his head into the wall out of frustration. Suddenly, his eyes narrow as he remembers… something.
MvW: Hey. You never answered me! Where the fuck is Arthur?
The Iron God adjusts the Iron Fist Championship on his shoulder, which had nearly fallen after the grabbing of his brother’s throat. Turning to face Michael, X’s shoulders are raised in a shrug.
The camera’s last shot before transitioning back to the ringside area for the next match of the evening is a look of utter confusion from Michael Van Warren.
The Holler Vs. The Brogun Warriors (c)
The Brogun Warriors stand in the center of the ring, clinking their Battalion titles together like happy toasts of drinks. Mike and Dave flank Kitsune and the three embrace until “Crisis” is abruptly cut off and replaced with Run the Jewels and Royal Blood’s “the ground below” and the fans know immediately who is to blame. The Proper Villainz are there en masse, led by Victor Thane. Behind him is Ben Bronson, RAIKO, and Kintaro. Thane is clapping and motions to Bronson to hand him the microphone. “The ground below” dies down.
Victor Thane: Gentlemen, I must applaud you. You have taken what we in the Proper Villainz laid down and elevated it yet again. Perhaps we misjudged you.
Bronson shakes his head violently that that is not the case while Thane paces.
Victor Thane: But we have a problem here. You see, Kitsune, Mike, Dave, you have a division to defend and in that division the Proper Villainz reside and require a rematch for those titles.
Victor Thane: Oh, someone gave you a microphone?
He looks around.
Victor Thane: Why?
Kitsune leans against the ropes and points to the lot of them on the stage.
Kintaro doesn’t want to look at Kitsune, but Bronson puts his arm around him and points to the former friend and tag partner.
Kitsune: Do you wanna fight us again, man?
Kintaro looks up at Kitsune. Thane steps in front of him.
Victor Thane: Of course he does.
Mike takes the microphone from Kitsune.
Mike: Nah nah nah, now you know it’s rude to interrupt. I know you learnt that in etiquette class.
Kitsune takes the microphone.
Kitsune: Do you wanna fight us again or what, Lee? Be real with me, homie. Tell the truth. You want another shot at the Battalion Championship against ya boys in the Broguns?
Kintaro says nothing.
Kitsune: I don’t…that’s not an answer, man.
Dave leans in, speaking into Kitsune’s mic.
Dave: Time to be a grown up and get in this tete-a-tete, my dude. We got the gold, you got the problems.
Kintaro continues to hesitate.
Kitsune: Tell you what, man. We’ll do a best of three, how about that? I’ll run it by the boss, see how he like it.
Victor Thane: Go on.
Kitsune: Dave takes on Kintaro. Mike takes on Bronson. I take on…you.
RAIKO is already infuriated at being denied a shot at any of them. She begins to yell at Kitsune in Japanese, but he waves her off.
Kitsune: RAIKO, I got a friend of mine flyin’ back stateside willin’ to throw hands with you. How about as a bonus, you get to face Tadakatsu?
Victor Thane smiles as he listens to the idea being put forth.
Victor Thane: Ah, Kitsune, quite an interesting proposal. You want us to earn our stripes against you, hm? Very well, son, we can do that. Next Ruination, Mike will face Bronson. Revolution after that, Dave will face Kintaro. If we need further sparring, at the next set of shows, you and I will finally step into the ring.
Kitsune: Bruh, I don’t need Mike and Dave to lose to fight you. I’ll do that shit for free.
The fans pop as he nods his head.
Kitsune: But we’ll do it that way. Until then?
The lights in the arena go out and we hear the familiar hiss of Kitsune’s magic in full swing. When the lights come back up, the Brogun Warriors are gone, leaving the Villainz alone on the stage. The fans pop big for the nearly supernatural powers on display and for the upcoming wars that are due to occur.
“Take Out the Gunman” by Chevelle begins to blast over the speakers as the fans start to stir with negativity swarming around the arena. As the music builds up in intensity, at the 0:35 mark, Justin Moreno comes out from behind the curtain, emerging in a three-piece suit completely uncharacteristic of the Moreno we once knew. Behind him is a massive six foot six, over three-hundred pound black man in a white long-sleeve dress shirt, black dress pants, and matching dress shoes with black suspenders, a black fedora, and designer sunglasses on, looking menacing as he lowers his shades and clenches his fists to tower over any fan hurling insults at Justin. Moreno pauses to look coldly at the fans he once embraced before continuing his walk to the ring. He then stops at the end of the walk-way, expressionless and vacant as the boos rain down on him with the massive black man standing to his right.
Eryk Masters: At “CONQUEST”, word had trickled out that Justin Moreno was announcing his return to the ring full-time after a decade in semi-retirement. But after his speech to the fans, or more accurately the sermon he gave, we are left with more questions than answers… answers we hope we get tonight.
Other Guy: Moreno’s a smarter guy than he gets credit for. He knew he was going to have to completely reinvent himself to stay relevant in 2021, and he may be onto something with this talk of being “Redeemed”. I say give the man a chance.
Eryk Masters: One thing I wonder is what is with this massive behemoth accompanying him? Is this someone who has bought his snake oil pitch hook, line, and sinker?
Other Guy: All I know is I DON’T want to meet HIM in a dark alley… he looks like he would grind me into dust… and smile about it!
Finally, Justin walks up the ring steps to the ring apron, pausing to look out at the fans with an icy stare as they full-throatedly. Justin closes his eyes, inhales a long, slow breath, and exhales before wiping his feet on the canvas before stepping into the ring. The big man behind him also wipes his feet, before stepping over the top rope and standing in the distance to the right of Justin as Moreno stands in the ring with his head bowed as the fans chant, “JUST-IN SUCKS!!! JUST-IN SUCKS!!! JUST-IN SUCKS!!!” The big man shakes his head with a scowl as Moreno slowly lifts the microphone to his lips, seemingly soaking in the chants as he speaks.
Justin Moreno: “God, forgive these people… for they know not what they do.”
This only makes the fans more irate, with the boos getting louder as Justin continues,
Justin Moreno: “You people truly don’t understand… this hurts me… more than it hurts you… but I am doing this… to save you. I am doing this… to save WRESTLING!”
The fans just keep booing as Justin elaborates.
Justin Moreno: “All the times you people watched me put my body on the line, flipping and diving to pander to you people night after night, did any of you ever attempt to reason with me, “Justin, please… take care of yourself. Think of your family. Think of your career.” Did you? NO… you DIDN’T! You always wanted more… and More… AND MORE! NOTHING I ever did… was enough for you people! No amount of crazy dives… no amount of career-shortening risks… no amount of my suicidal in-ring style was enough for me. All you people who chanted, “MO-RE-NO! MO-RE-NO! MO-RE-NO!”… you wouldn’t piss on me if I was on fire, and you know it!”
The fans boo louder than ever, with a “FUCK YOU JUST-IN! (clap clap clap clap clap)” chant getting louder than ever. Moreno bitterly shakes his head and retorts
Justin Moreno: “Really? REALLY?!? THAT… is how you’re going to react to the truth? You people HAVE to give me THAT… no matter what, I never lied to you… and now that I’m honest in revealing YOUR fallacies, you turn on me at the drop of a hat?”
Laughing with bitterness, Moreno continues.
Justin Moreno: “Back in 2011, at the height of my success… I had… a career-altering epiphany dawn upon me. The night after I won the LEGACY World Heavyweight Championship… it hit me that no matter what hurdles and hoops I kept jumping through… it was NEVER going to be enough for greedy fans… for greedy promoters… for the greedy boys in the back who kept demanding more… and More… and MORE from me night… after night. So it hit me… why am I killing myself for this business? Why does my wife hate this business the way she does? Why do my kids cry when they see their father get beat up night after night? Then it dawned on me… THIS… wasn’t worth it anymore. I immediately left this business largely in the dust and realized for the next decade I could live just fine without it. I got to see my now three wonderful children grow up. My marriage got stronger. I opened a wrestling school to train the next generation. I had time to chase other passions. I was happier than I’d ever been… there was no need to come back…”
Justin holds up his index finger and speaks up.
Justin Moreno: “… until one day. One day, my savior laid it on my heart that my mission work in the business I had left behind… it was NOT finished. He showed me the younger generation falling into the same trap I had fallen into… risking their careers and even lives for what? For a few seconds of psychological masturbation? These younger wrestlers… they don’t get it. Living for the masses? It’s a selfish, shallow thing to live for. What they SHOULD live for? They should live to be “Redeemed”.”
The fans boo again as Moreno continues,
Justin Moreno: “You people don’t understand now, but perhaps one day you will… I want the current generation to SEE THE LIGHT… and that light… is that they should think of themselves… think of their careers… even think of their souls and not live to please the ungodly heathens among you. They should strive… for redemption. They should seek to be “Redeemed”. I did… and it has reinvigorated me. I have been washed in the blood of professional wrestling… only to be cleansed of my past sins and embrace a “Redeemed” mentality.”
Again, the fans boo as Justin shakes his head, adding,
Justin Moreno: “See? You people don’t get it. Not right now, you don’t. But one day? You will. But I pray you realize it… before it’s too late. We in this business do not need to live for YOU… we need to live… for HIM! We need to live… to be “Redeemed”… and I pray you people one day see the light and come to repent of your rejection and mocking of my message!”
Once again, the fans threaten to boo Justin out of the building as he shakes his head with sadness, only for the big man with him to stop him and raise the microphone to his lips as he bellows out in a booming voice,
Big Bodyguard: “Justin… Justin… don’t listen to these people. They don’t understand… but I do! I remember you found me in that diner a few years ago, fresh blood on my shirt from watching my best friend die in the streets of Compton in my arms… you taught me what it meant to be “Redeemed”… and it changed MY life! I was on a dark path, selling drugs, robbing people… just to survive. But you taught me a better way to live. You showed me how to be “Redeemed”… and if it weren’t for you? I wouldn’t be the man I am today. I wouldn’t have traded selling drugs for saving lost souls. I wouldn’t have had your guidance in my life… and I thank you, Justin, for showing me what it meant to be “Redeemed”… even if these people don’t see it right now.”
The fans boo the big man as Justin nods his head solemnly and claps the massive man on the shoulder and adds,
Justin Moreno: “Thank you, Niles. Ladies and Gentlemen, the man with me in this ring? He was a college football stand-out that traded blocking oncoming defensive linemen… for stealing car stereos and dealing drugs. When I met him a few years ago? He was a broken, lost soul, trying to sell me and my wife drugs. Instead, I sold him a vision… a vision… of redemption. It took time, but the day he went all in to be “Redeemed”? He was FULLY “Redeemed”, and he NEVER has wavered in his now unshakeable faith. I want that kind of hope and joy for you that it has given Niles Grady here. And I believe there is SOMEONE in attendance among us that NEEDS… to be “Redeemed” right here… and right now. All you have to do… is heed His calling to come home… come home… to the Father, who will give rest… and redemption!”
The sermon again makes the fans boo loudly, even chanting, “SHUT THE FUCK UP! (clap clap clap clap clap)” as Justin shakes his head at the crowd’s reaction while Niles looks as if he wants to break the fans in half.
Suddenly, however, a beautiful, young red-headed woman in her early twenties cautiously makes her way to the ring as SHOOT security starts to guide her away as Justin waves them off as he pipes up.
Justin Moreno: “No, no, no! This young woman clearly came here to ringside for a reason. Let her in the ring… and let her speak.”
The woman cautiously steps into the ring, wiping tears away from her eyes as Justin speaks again.
Justin Moreno: “What is your name, young lady?”
Attractive Young Woman: “Ashtyn. Ashtyn Ryan”
Justin Moreno: “Ashtyn, dear, what brought you out to this ring tonight?”
Ashtyn wipes away tears before continuing.
Ashtyn Ryan: “When I was a little girl in Temecula, California… I grew up watching you wrestle. You were my hero, Justin. I still remember meeting you at an autograph signing in town. You took a picture with me and signed your autograph for me, and I was the happiest little girl in the world. But the past few years… life hasn’t been good to me. I got kicked out of a broken home at sixteen and had to split time between living in hotels and on the streets. The things I did to survive… I’m not proud of. For the longest time, I have turned to crystal meth to solve my problems. But I saved all my money in my pocket to drive here tonight and see you in person and when I heard what you had to say…”
Ashtyn wipes tears away again with her lower lip trembling as she dropped to her knees, kneeling before Justin.
Ashtyn Ryan:, “… I knew I needed the inner peace I see you with. I know I can’t go another night without being “Redeemed” and living for the right things in life and not living for my own selfish needs and to please everyone else. I need you… to “Redeem” me!”
The fans boo loudly as Justin looks at the fans with shock and dismay as he chides them
Justin Moreno: “How dare you people boo this young lady? She clearly came a long way to come here and heed the call laid upon her heart to be “Redeemed”… Well. Ashtyn, today… is your day of redemption. Today, you are “Redeemed”. All you have to do… is walk the straight and narrow, and with myself and Niles guiding you? I truly believe your heart is one that can be “Redeemed”!”
Ashtyn pops up to her feet and tearfully hugs Justin tightly as even Niles seems to be choked up, clapping for what he sees as the fans audibly groan and boo. Justin then holds Ashtyn’s hand for the fans to see as he shows her off and calls out to the crowd.
Justin Moreno: “Don’t you see? This is a sign from the Most High. THIS… is a sign that my work… is not done. I have a feeling that young Ashtyn here… she’s not the only soul in dire need of redemption. The Most Gracious Heavenly Father has more souls who need to heed the call…”
Justin then turns to the camera, placing a hand on it as he goes further into his delusional spiel.
Justin Moreno: “Brothers and sisters out there, I urge you to lay your hands on the TV with me… and pray… for revival. Pray… for redemption. Pray… for those who seek to be “Redeemed” that they may heed that call before it’s too late! In His Holy Name I pray… Amen.”
Justin and Niles stand with Ashtyn and raise both her hands up to the fans, raising their hands to the sky, all three of them saying repeatedly, “Thank you, Heavenly Father. Thank you… for your gracious redemption. Thank you.” All three leave together as the fans boo collectively, not buying what Justin is selling.
Eryk Masters: Well… that… was uncomfortable and downright creepy, to say the least. Justin Moreno should be ashamed of himself, leading young, impressionable people astray like he is!
Other Guy: I don’t know, man. I was close to coming into that ring and heeding that call, myself.
Eryk Masters: UGH, don’t tell me YOU buy this garbage!
Other Guy: I don’t know, man… but I will say Justin is a pretty convincing silver-tongued speaker.
Eryk Masters: More like a snake oil saiesman in my opinion…
We are backstage when the camera pans into the locker room. Ignacius Albert Martin is sitting on a bench in front of a locker.
I AM: Gotta keep the momentum up. Cant work too hard. Cant get lazy. Cant slack. They may not be watching Revolution, but gotta play like they cant keep their eyes off it.
He reaches down in his back and pulls a small hand towel out, whipping the sweat from his forehead before tossing it over his shoulder.
I AM: I been talking all week. Been talking bout how they let me slip away from them. Been talking about how I’d go out and make them regret not picking me up. I been talking bout how I was going to change the very face of the SHOOT Project. Today’s the day. Today you go out there and you show everyone just who the Hell you are.
He stands from the bench and turns around to his locker. He starts taking his jewelry off and carefully placing it inside his locker. His voice is barely above a whisper.
I AM: You gotta go out there and show everyone what you can do. He aint Ultimo Muerte. He’s Goodell. He’s the Jags. He’s every team on that board that looked at your name and said no thank you. He’s that fool in the club. He’s every damn person who ever doubted you. You gotta go out there and show them just who you are.
He slams the door shut on his locker and looks down to his hands.
I AM: Who’s the new baddest man in the SHOOT Project? I AM. Who’s gonna go out there and kick some ass? I AM. Who’s the future of the SHOOT Project? I AM. Who is the SHOOT Project?
He turns away from the locker and can barely hear the opening of “Gangster Ass Anthony” playing over the PA system. He begins to walk out of the locker room.
I AM: I AM…
Ignatius Albert Martin Vs. Ultimo Muerte
Eryk Masters: Hey, that’s a BIG time debut win for Ignatius Albert Martin! Against a fucking mega-contender in Ultimo Muerte, no less!
Other Guy: Yeah, he’s gotta be feeling REALLY nice right about now. Way to come in and back up the talk for sure. Surely, the office will have something interesting for him for our next set of shows, right?
Eryk Masters: Oh I’m sure they will, and it’s great to see this celebration in the rin– wait a second! I’m getting word from the back that there’s been an incident! NEMESIS has been attacked!
The screen immediately shifts to the backstage area, causing the crowd to audibly gasp! The scene is SHOOT Project medical personnel rushing down the hall towards the new World Heavyweight Champion, who is laid out, face down on the ground! As cameras get closer, they see up close and personally what her condition is, and that condition is unconscious and bloodied!
Eryk Masters: Oh fuck that! NEMESIS is here, obviously it’s her first Revolution as the SHOOT Project World Heavyweight Champion, she’s the first woman to EVER hold that title, and instead of getting to enjoy it, she gets attacked?
Other Guy: Not to be glib about it, but heavy is the head that wears the crown, my man. She’s got a BIG target on her back, and it looks like someone decided not to wait.
Back to the video wall, there’s a visible pool of blood underneath NEMESIS’ head and her whole face is covered with the SHOOT Project World Heavyweight Championship, which has also been smeared with blood. Workers move the title off of her face and roll her over, beginning to administer medical treatment as we cut back to the announcer’s desk.
Other Guy: This is awful and is very clearly a message being sent to NEMESIS, first and foremost.
Eryk Masters: Yep, someone wants that World title and they’re willing to take some pretty cheap shots in order to get it. We’ll have more on this as it develops, but now, we’re headed to another backstage area where we’re joined by the NEW World Tag Team Champions, the UNHOLY CYBER ARMY.
They stand backstage, not unfamiliar locales for them. But their look, their attitude, feels different. Though they still wear their heavily modified leather jackets, they have added more armor plates, each sporting almost an entire brigandine arm. They have also added circlets, crowns of sort, made from hammered steel, bolts, and razor wire. Around their waists are the Tag Team Championships. Superbeast has been growing a beard—his topknot has been shaved. Both men sway, looking down for a moment, taking their time. When Power Devil speaks, his voice is as measured as his gets, only an authoritative bark, not the death metal screams he generally communicates in.
Power Devil: They ask in the streets. From towers both terrifying and ivory pure. They scream from the fields and down canyons. ‘Why? Why? Why?’
Superbeast: They beg understanding. They beg motivation. They want to know why we would turn our back on the people…when we have done no such thing.
Power Devil grits his teeth and points directly to the camera with the clank and creak of armored leather.
Power Devil: Look at your own reflections! When we were painting the ring crimson against the Murder Doves, did you not cheer? When we were slamming Dan Stein and Johnny Patriot into unforgiving steel, were you not elated?! When we were making the charlatan Sexton Brothers scream in agony, did you not clap and yell our names and cry ‘witness’ to the rafters?!
He turns his back, rolling his shoulders. Superbeast stares directly at the camera, unblinking.
Power Devil: Look to yourself! And we are now evil? We are NOW violent thugs?!
His partner steps forward, throwing his arms wide.
Superbeast: We always have been! And you have always loved it!!
He looks to the ceiling, throwing the tendons and veins in his neck to sharp relief. He takes a moment to breathe in audibly, as if he is gathering strength. When he next speaks, it echoes from the walls.
Superbeast: Now you find yourselves queasy at the prospect of our thirst for blood?! Now we are pariah?!
Power Devil turns back around, throwing an arm around the shoulder of his brother, his face a mask of bad intentions and rage.
Power Devil: You see that we have aligned with a blowhard. We say we have aligned with the one person who reflects the warrior king ethos—we recognize the same soul within him, even if he expresses it with the laugh of a jester! Name a more dominant champion of any division! I will wait!!
Superbeast: Name someone who has more thoroughly trounced all comers! Name someone who has conquered more thoroughly! And you are shocked?! Appalled?! That we, the Conqueror Kings of Hell would find a counterpoint in such an individual, and he in us?! You are not fools, so please don’t play-act like fools. This happened. Accept it, or do not. But we are not changed demons!!
Power Devil Punctuates these next few words with hard, thudding punches into his brother’s chest.
Power Devil: And we! Do not! Issue challenges!!
Superbeast growls and does the same with his words.
Superbeast: We! Shall not! Beg for competition!!
They take a moment, looking at one another, nodding with a sort of stern enthusiasm, before both pointing to the camera and bellowing.
Power Devil: Cower!
Power Devil: For the entirety of SHOOT is now on notice! Singles wrestlers. Tag teams. Factions. If you set foot in this building then you are merely another competitor to destroy, kindling for the all encompassing blaze!! Watch the great Khans spread across this land and bow in supplication or meet the full fury of an unstoppable Empire!!
They both step out of the frame, screaming, the sound getting softer before getting louder as they return.
Superbeast: Conquered lands, conquered lands!
Power Devil: Supplicants and shambles!
Power Devil drops to his knees, holding his arms out as if he is receiving the gospel itself. Behind him, Superbeast extends his, his eyes staring fury directly at us, the viewer. When he speaks, his entire body shakes, as if he has more energy than the act of screaming his prophecy makes use of.
Superbeast: This entire building, roster, company and very edifice are now on notice! The Kings of Hell with the full backing of the Empire will make you weep for forgiveness! You will suffer under the wrath of the Demons of Cyber Roppongi! Conquest was merely the foundation block! This is the new aeon of the Cyber Army!!
Power Devil shoots to his feet and both men take a long, long moment to stare at the camera–before both stalking off stage left, stomping as they go.
Teresa Ames Vs. Michael van Warren
Lindsay Troy and Pat Cassidy sit in VALOR’s locker room, getting the final pieces of their gear on for their main event match against the Proper Villanz.
Suddenly, a knock at the door shatters the silence.
Lindsay Troy: Hark, who goes there?
The Scrapper from Southie gives her a funny look, which she returns by flinging a towel at his head. A voice pipes up from the other side.
Ayumi Seppuku: It’s me, Lindz. Just checking in.
The Queen of the Ring pops up and opens the door to reveal a makeup-less Ayumi Seppuku, looking almost sheepish as she stands in the doorway.
Lindsay Troy: Well, don’t just stand there, get in here. It’s just Pat and I, I’m not sure where Teresa went off to…
Pat Cassidy: That’s once. Say her name two more times and she’ll appear. Like Beetlejuice.
Ayumi slides in and nods to Pat Cassidy, who gives the Ronin Wraith a wave back.
Ayumi Seppuku: So you’re… taking on the Proper Villanz tonight, huh?
Pat: Gonna give the Proper Villianz a Proper Azzkicking. It’s time for a reality check: they aren’t the keepers of SHOOT Project and VALOR is here to keep a check on any bullshit they might try and pull.
Ayumi genuinely smiles at the statement.
Ayumi Seppuku: That’s… that good to hear, Pat. If I’m honest I’ve felt like I’ve been a bit alone – and a bit of a failure – given everything that’s happened. I haven’t felt like I’ve held up my end of the bargain when it comes to VALOR.
Lindsay Troy: Will you knock that shit off? You were a second away from beating SHOOT Project’s Duck Dodger for his precious title at CONQUEST. No one from VALOR is looking down on you for how that turned out.
Ayumi shakes her head.
Ayumi Seppuku: Not that. I… I wasn’t able to keep my friend safe, Lindz. I wasn’t able to keep Claire safe from whoever has it out for me. I’m a liability to the people I care about and I can’t do ANYTHING to help them.
Ayumi sounds on the verge of tears as Lindsay shuffles her to the bench and sits down beside her. Pat sits on the other side of his teammate, looking a bit uncomfortable with the sentimental stuff, as Lindsay puts her arm around Ayumi.
Lindsay Troy: Listen to me. We can’t be everywhere, and we can’t control everything. Trust me, I’ve been trying to do both of those things all my life and I’m never gonna be able to. All you can do is control how you respond. If it weren’t for you getting me to go out for a drink, and then talking to NEMESIS in the hallway, VALOR wouldn’t exist – and it’s because of VALOR that we can start taking on assholes like the Proper Villanz and the Holy Breedlove Empire. Together.
Pat Cassidy: Goddamn I fuckin’ love a pep talk.
Ayumi smiles, gripping Lindsay’s hand and looking at her intently.
Ayumi Seppuku: I have a favor to ask.
Lindsay Troy: SHOOT.
Ayumi Seppuku: Don’t hurt RAIKO.
Lindsay drops her arm from Ayumi’s shoulder and looks at her, confused.
Lindsay Troy: Did you not see the runsheet today, Ayumi? She’s IN the match. As far as members of Proper Villanz go she’s the only one I respect, but RAIKO is absolutely not going to give me the same courtesy that you’re asking me to give her.
Ayumi holds up her hands in protest.
Ayumi Seppuku: I know, I know. I just… what is VALOR if not a group of people trying to defend the defenseless?
Pat Cassidy: Uh… I’m not sure anybody in the Villianz is defenseless.
Lindsay Troy: Cass has a point. RAIKO’s been able to hold her own. Besides, when she first joined up with them, it was because she lost that third match to Kitsune. If she doesn’t want to still be there, and if Thane’s as benevolent as he preaches on Spitter, why hasn’t he just…let her go?
Ayumi: Abusive relationships are still relationships, Lindz.
Ayumi pauses, choosing her next words carefully.
Ayumi: I’ve seen it; I’ve… experienced it. So I know when something is off – and this feels… off. You’re right that RAIKO may not be defenseless, but she’s not free, either. I’m not saying to not give it your all – but just don’t…
Ayumi struggles to find the right words but can’t. But the Queen understands; she doesn’t need the Ronin Wraith to finish her thought. She simply pulls her friend in for a hug. Pat places his hand on Ayumi’s shoulder, lending his support as well.
Lindsay Troy: Alright. I won’t, like, give her the kind of hurting I’m planning on giving Ben Bronson. But I’m not gonna be her punching bag, either. If she comes for me, she’s gonna regret it. That’s all I can promise.
Pat Cassidy: She’s in for a fight – but nothing that’s going to cross any lines. No worries.
Ayumi Seppuku: Thanks, guys.
She pushes the two away gingerly.
Ayumi Seppuku: Now… go show the Proper Villanz what VALOR is all about.
The three VALOR members high five as the feed cuts out.
The phone hums to life and a flashing red icon appears in the corner. A hand repositions it just so.
“It is time to reveal myself.”
The droning of machines and whirring of dreams are enough to make you want to die. Such a shame, too, given this place is built to sustain survival and life.
“I don’t like defeat. It tastes awfully bitter. When I lost to Josh Breedlove, I could take solace in the fact that he couldn’t do it without his friendly referee. Dan Stein, however, defeated me alone. Fairly. Definitively. In professional wrestling, that’s the end of the story, right? The big monster is slain because he was held down for a handful of seconds, a few slaps on a piece of canvas. That’s it, that’s all, no more, no less.”
“But professional wrestling isn’t life and I am not just some monster.”
“I am Void.”
Void slides from the shadows in this dimly lit space knowing there is no one else here. Just him. Just these machines. Just…her.
He stares down at her as she breathes almost mechanically. She is trying to survive, the little angel, and he can see her turmoil.
Void: I have listened to medical professionals discuss how she hasn’t developed her lungs fully. How she has to eat through a tube. I have heard her hollow little cry so devoid of life and filled only with pain and a hunger to live. She is so close to perfect. She is so close to me.
Void slides his index finger nervously along the plexiglass container she rests in.
Void: But unfortunately, she is the product of a whore and a narcissist. If there were a God out there, he’d throttle her and end her life now so she can go to Heaven pure. But here she stirs, wrapped in cloth and kept warm under a lamp like hours old fast food. Then again, maybe that’s why no one has noticed me here. Maybe that’s why I have slept in the walls and ceilings and empty closets of this place with no one to engage with. Because there is a God. Because God brought me here. To her. To finish what He started.
Void glances down to her again.
He whispers so low he doesn’t want anyone else to hear. It’s late, sometime after 3 A.M., and he knows if he is too loud this rendezvous will be unveiled to the world.
Void: …I am so sorry, my darling angel, that this is your life. It has been short, perilous, and unforgiving. You deserved more than what you’ve been given. A short sighted mother. A careless father.
He kneels down,his face separated from hers by clear plexiglass as his breath obscures his vision.
Void: I tried, sweetheart, I really did. Your sperm donor may have popped you in the oven, but I was put here to teach you, guide you, lead you, and mold you. But your whore of a mother, she didn’t listen.
He presses his forehead against the plexiglass.
Void: I tried to tell her the truth, show her the way, but she didn’t care. Cock hungry, perhaps, I don’t know. So Daniel, your weak willed child of a father, he pumped you inside of her, she grew you, and I came along to save you from them. I offered her the chance to help cultivate your greatness, but she enjoyed mediocrity a bit too much. Now you tease the precipice of death, teetering towards an end unknown to those who draw breath ever still.
He reaches his hand into her and caresses her tiny head. She is so soft. She smells so good.
Void: You will die soon, I imagine.
He stops himself. He leans over and inhales her scent again. Through the latex, through the machines and medicine, the obvious and sweet smell of a baby permeates his nostrils. He sighs again, realizing I can’t be the thing that ends this angel.
Void: You will stop breathing, eating, whatever. You will die before you taste the horrors of life. That’s good. You don’t need to go through life with parents like those two. I wanted to be your parent, but alas.
He turns his attention to the camera on the phone recording all of this.
Void: Battles can often lead to the end of wars, Daniel. You have defeated me and I am not so proud that I can’t admit your victory in our first major battle. But, you see, I transcend silly little grudges that can be settled with a referee and a bell to bell contest between two competitors. Daniel, I want you to think about this. Think about all of this.
He lords over Siobhan’s sleeping form and grabs a hold of both sides of the container, glaring at the camera as his whole body looms large over her frail form.
Void: You beat me, Daniel. One, two, three, in the middle of the ring. I am still here. You took Molly back, this child was born, but I am still…here.
Void: In every aspect of this, you have failed. I did not disappear. Siobhan wasn’t born healthy. You have done nothing but succeed in the wrestling ring, which is where I’ve always said you cared the most. You did nothing but delay the inevitable, Daniel, and now this child is going to die because you failed her.
He looks down at the baby as she gurgles slightly on the tube sticking out from her mouth.
Void: Know this, Daniel. Know that I am coming for you. Know that I can go where I want. Know I can do what I want. Know that this will not stop until I am tired of playing with my prey. Tell Molly she will suffer for her betrayal. Tell Siobhan you were unable to keep her safe. Tell everyone that Void has infected every part of your life like the malignant tumor I am and I have spread to every vital part of you. Your world, and everything you have built for yourself, will fall to rot and ruin. I will feast on your carrion and I will move on from your desiccated remnants with a smile.
Void: You don’t beat me, Daniel. You survive me at best. You wear shirts with black ribbons on them and say Fuck Void and do 5Ks to raise money to try to beat me but you never will. I am everywhere. Everything. Virulent. Terminal. Incurable. Insurmountable. You thought your life was in remission because you put me through your surgery. But you didn’t get me all out, boy. I grew back.
He starts to chuckle.
Void: I always come back, boy! I ALWAYS come back!
Siobhan is startled as his voice raises. She starts to cry her weak, guttural bellow. Machines start to whir relentlessly and beeps begin to chime faster and faster. He laughs and laughs as she cries out. Lights come on and nurses rush to Siobhan’s side but Void has slid into the next child’s space. He looks down at this one, closed off completely and barely moving.
He steps out of the curtain as nurses pile in to check on Siobhan. He walks calmly out of the now unguarded room, whistling “The Touch” to himself as the door shuts behind him.
The Proper Villainz Vs. VALOR
As Bronson and RAIKO make their way from the ring, the lights in the arena cut out!
Eryk Masters: What the…
Over the speakers in the arena come two words. Less spoken than rumbled, less words than thunderclaps. They are
The lights cut back on, and standing in the ring with Lindsay Troy and Pat Cassidy are Power Devil and Superbeast! Both men are wielding folding chairs and chuckling with bad intent. The crowd breaks into screams as both battered combatants take fighting stances, casting angry eyes at the smirking Unholy Cyber Army!
Other Guy: Haha! Business is a-booming, ‘Ryk Mast’!
Eryk Masters: The Cyber Army are here and they’re armed, ladies and gentlemen!
As they advance on the VALOR teammates, LT and Cass find themselves backed into the ropes. Finally Superbeast charges Lindsay with his chair raised high–at the last second, she drops down and pulls the top rope with her, causing the Demon of Cyber Roppongi to whiff his shot and take a nasty fall to the floor! Power Devil pays this maybe half a second’s worth of attention…which is enough time for Pat to square up and bury his hand into the man’s nose with a wicked looking overhead right! Power Devil stumbles backwards, shaking his head, his nose already bleeding!
Eryk Masters: It would appear that VALOR aren’t going to take this lying down!!
On the outside, Superbeast recovers fast enough to avoid a diving axe handle from LT. He turns to try and entangle her, arms raised–and she cuts him off with a hard kick to the midsection! Doubled over, he appears seriously winded! But as soon as Troy gets close enough, he pops up and FLATTENS her with a nasty headbutt! Not wasting any time, he pulls her to her feet and whips her directly into the ring steps, causing her to take a flip over them to the floor!! He raises his arms and screams as the crowd boos his actions–and then he snatches his chair!!
Other Guy: Dominant! No waiting around like those Sin City losers! They see action, they take action!!
Eryk Masters: I may disagree with how they do it, I may disagree with the why, but I can’t deny this is as effective a “put on notice” as I’ve seen–but…they aren’t done?
Back in the ring, Power Devil gets the better of Pat with a standing spear, which he then transitions by grabbing him around the waist on the mat, getting to his feet, and LAUNCHING Cassidy backwards into the corner with a belly to belly suplex!! Pat Cassidy lands totally inverted, his head breaking the fall! As Power Devil stands over the man, the camera cuts to the outside, where Superbeast has dragged Lindsay Troy to the steps. She’s leaned against them, sitting on the floor–he cocks back and with a mighty crunch of metal on metal, sandwiches her head between a chair and the diamond plate steel!!
Eryk Masters: Oh my god!! We need someone out here–there’s setting and example and there’s outright sadism, and they’re crossing the line!
The crowd noise ratchets up even higher, as the feed cuts to the outside of the ring on the ramp side. Power Devil has begun kicking at the guard rail, and finally lifts an entire section away from the crowd!! Making it look relatively easy, he hoists it over his head and then throws it to the floor, gauging his distances.
Other Guy: Oh man, what is he even thinking?
Cassidy is still reeling, clutching his neck. Power Devil rolls into the ring and begins stomping him, making sure he stays down. As this is going on, Superbeast strides over to the corner closest to the fallen section of guardrail, climbing to the middle turnbuckle, facing the steel bars. Power Devil grabs Pat and hoists him upwards across his soldiers, fireman carrying him to the corner. Very carefully he feeds the fallen member of VALOR to Superbeast, who flips him over his shoulders and stands wholly erect…
Eryk Masters: Dont!
Other Guy: Yes!
…Lindsay is grasping at the bottom rope from the outside, trying to haul herself to standing, attempting to intervene–Superbeast leaps off the turnbuckle and BRINGS PAT CASSIDY CRASHING INTO THE SECTION OF RAILING WITH A MASSIVE POWERBOMB!! SUPER THUNDERKISS!! The crowd goes apocalyptic as both men stand over the frankly limp body of Pat Cassidy, sprawled in such a fashion as to leave no doubt. He’s out cold. Medics start to swarm him, and though they keep asking the Unholy Cyber Army to move, neither man budges. They just stand there, breathing heavily, staring. They just keep looking at their handiwork.
Other Guy: That’s what we call initiative, Eryk! Talk shit, get hit!!
Eryk Masters: There is absolutely zero call for violence of this magnitude, and you know it OG!
Suddenly, a cheer erupts from the crowd as four figures bolt down the ramp! Ayumi Seppuku, Kayden Paulton, Teresa Ames, and Courtney Hatchett!! Superbeast and Power Devil begin walking backwards slowly, cackling, the medical personell effectively creating a barrier between them.
Eryk Masters: VALOR is here! And I’m not seeing any other member of the Unholy Empire…OG, care to chime in on that?
Other Guy: Uh…Self sufficient! Bootstraps!! They don’t need a gang to handle their business!
Teresa and Kayden are checking on Pat, who is currently being strapped to a spinal board. Ayumi and Courtney keep the pursuit on the Demons of Cyber Roppongi, Hatchett in particular goading them in for a fight. Superbeast pauses at the corner as Power Devil undoes another section of guardrail. He points to the fallen Cassidy–Power Devil to the still reeling Lindsay Troy. Loud enough to be heard over the crowd noise without the aid of a mic, Power Devil bellows.
“Gather your dead!!”
The Unholy Cyber Army leave the ring, walking backwards through the seating area, dodging cups and concessions, as VALOR is left to tend to their wounded. With the image of Lindsay Troy staring absolute murder in their direction and Pat Cassidy being placed on a wheeled stretcher, the log drops, and the show goes to black.