Ravenhearst Manor. The heat wave has not let up with the blazing sun shining down relentlessly, but at least the dry climate of Alberta and the fact that the Prairies almost always generate some wind coming off the Rocky Mountains make it at least a bit more bearable. The Shadow and Myfanwy verch Owain sit at a small table on the back porch of the manor, bandages still visible around his ribs through the cut out sleeve of his black shirt, remnants of the brutal match that had seen Bronson Box fling him against the barrel of a cannon. Myfanwy is trying to add to the breeze with a hand fan, her wild red hair bound together into a thick ponytail to give the cooling air a chance to reach her. Several files are between them on the table, held down by various items against the wind, as Sanford Thibodaux comes running across the lawn from Druid HQ, a tablet in hand.
Sanford Thibodaux: Boss, a message just came in and I’m not sure you’ll like it…
The Shadow: Oh, am I not cleared by Dr. Leggett still?
Thibodaux reaches the porch, almost trips over the last step, curses and skids to a stop in front of the table.
Sanford Thibodaux: I don’t know, but that is not what this is about, some big things are happening out there and you might want to see this.
He hands over the tablet for The Shadow to read, while he holds himself up on the table with both hands, trying to catch his breath.
“Chaos ensues within the hallowed halls of the CWF!
The 26th episode of the regularly scheduled Evolution wrestling event has been postponed due to some unforeseen circumstances as the global wrestling pioneer, Championship Wrestling Federation, experiences a brief period of tumult.
The found, owner and CEO of the company, Justin Rishel and the entire Rishel family have seemingly disappeared with no trace, nor any indication of their current whereabouts. Any attempt to contact the owner and his kin have failed.
The promotion has purportedly been at the centre of some machinations by an individual known only as Elisha, the leader of a powerful and influential Cult-like Organisation known as Ouroboros. Elisha and Ouroboros were believed to be using the wrestling company as a means to enact plans for World Domination. Cooperative efforts by many of the World's finest Special Forces and Intelligence agencies conducted a joint task-force operation, code named Snake-Eater, in a bid to depose the Moonchild from their seat of power within the occupied nation of Makhnovia. The United Forces were met with some resistance but the ultimate fate of Elisha and his Ouroboros is yet unknown.
In response to this attack on the Cult and their summary splintering, the current CWF World Champion, Caledonia Summers-Highlander has parted ways with the company to conduct a concerted search and rescue operation to find her missing husband, Daniel Highlander, last believed to be in the custody of Ouroboros.
What this means for the wrestling company and its members has yet to be seen.
More as events further unfold.”
The Shadow: I’ll be damned, you just turn your back for one week and see what happens… This is insane!
He puts down the tablet and stares into nowhere, slowly shaking his head. Myfanwy reaches over and puts a hand on his arm.
Myfanwy verch Owain: What happened? Are you ok?
The Shadow absentmindedly places his hand over hers, then pushes the tablet over. As Myfanwy reads the news, her eyes go wide and she pales a bit more.
Myfanwy verch Owain: They’re all...gone?
After a deep look into her emerald eyes he sighs.
The Shadow: Yes, disappeared, gone into hiding, left…
Myfanwy verch Owain: Elisha I don’t care, he can get lost for all I care, Cali I can see that she wants to make sure she can find her husband, but the whole Rish family - gone?
Thibodaux has caught his breath by now.
Sanford Thibodaux: OK, I am used to the heat, but running in it, I’m getting too old for this shit… So yes, the Rishes have vanished without a trace, I’ve taken the liberty to send Selkirk and Fagermo out to Philly to see, if they can find something.
The Shadow: Thank you Sanford. Now Elisha--
Sanford Thibodaux: He was in Makhnovia, well, Pierreia or whatever you want to call that place these days, when Snake-eater went in and from what I’ve heard the place is - a - mess! It’s pure chaos, there are skirmishes all over and the Epicentre is standing like a fortress, they haven’t been able to get in yet.
The Shadow: There goes our plan to get in…
Sanford Thibodaux: Oh contraire, mon ami, it is exactly our chance. Stealth won’t be as much of an issue anymore, because whatever controls the Institute had in place will be really busy just saving their own asses right now. So while the Epicentre will still be a hard nut to crack, we have a better chance to get TO that place.
Thibodaux puts on his toothiest smile and winks at Myfanwy, but all he gets in return is a whack with her fan.
The Shadow: OK, that actually makes sense, I don’t have anything on my schedule until Summer Games, so…
Thibodaux puts up a finger, looking uncomfortable to interrupt again.
Sanford Thibodaux: Well, there is another small thing you might want to know…
With a suspicious look on his face The Shadow turns to him.
Sanford Thibodaux: Good news and bad news. Good news, Dr. Leggett HAS cleared you.
The Shadow: And the bad news?
Sanford Thibodaux: They pushed everything back by a week and you’re booked for Evolution 26…
The Shadow: And…?
Thibodaux looks clearly uncomfortable and just stammers.
The Shadow: Myfanwy, could you do my a favour and whack him again, please?
Myfanwy laughs and raises her hand again when Thibodaux takes a step back, raising his hands.
Sanford Thibodaux: They put together eight qualifying matches for End Games, with the winner getting the World title. And you have… Jarvis… Mia… and Ataxia.
Both The Shadow’s and Myfanwy’s eyes go wide.
The Shadow: You’ve got to be kidding me! I’m going to kill him!
Myfanwy verch Owain: Kill who?
The Shadow: Ataxia! He’s the new commissioner and now first week in we have this...this...mess!
He takes out his phone and dials.
The Shadow: I am going to kill you, man!
The Shadow: You must be completely off your rocker with a match like this!
The Shadow: The qualifier for End Games?
The Shadow: What do you mean what qualifier?
Pause. The Shadow obviously can’t believe what is is hearing.
The Shadow: You, me, Mia and King!
The Shadow: You’ve got to be kidding me!
The Shadow: You are nuts, you know that?
He laughs hangs up and Thibodaux and Myfanwy look at him questioningly.
The Shadow: Ataxia. He’s the one that booked the match, at first playing as if he had no idea what I was talking about… But as he explained it, it makes sense. You don’t really want to have four champions in the last match and have them get another title… Guess we have even more work to do now… Myfanwy, could you please see, if you can find Mia, if she doesn’t know yet, I think she should…
Myfanwy verch Owain: Sir, yes, Sir!
She can’t keep a straight face anymore and bursts out giggling as she gets up.
The Shadow: You act as if you are one of the Druids…
She bends forward as she passes him, whispering in his ear.
Myfanwy verch Owain: Who says that I am not?
As she walks away, still giggling and tablet in hand, The Shadow looks at Thibodaux while pointing at Myfanwy with a very questioning and confused look on this face. Thibodaux just holds out his hands and shrugs…
The lawn of the Manor, the sun has started to set behind the trees, finally giving some reprieve from the scalding heat, aided by a lively breeze. A target has been brought out with The Shadow having set up shop about 60 feet down with a bow and a full quiver. He notches his first arrow, aims, lets go and misses the target by a good two feet.
The Shadow: Silas, will you ever learn? In a way you are like this arrow. Your track record is atrocious, you got in trouble with management and yet you still throw threats and warnings around as if you got them by the dozen. MJ, Ataxia, Mia, me, do you really think that you are in any position to make demands or hand out underhanded threats like this? I can understand that you are frustrated, but time and again you try to reach for the stars, maybe aim for the moon for a change, I heard a spot for a child up there has opened up...
But there is more important stuff to attend to, such as… The Champions’ Ball… I still don’t like it. I mean, I do understand why, because they want to make sure only one of us will have a chance to have a shot at the Heavyweight title, but still, three of four Forsaken in one match and against each other? Come on!
He notches another arrow and goes through the same procedure and a similar result, even though a bit closer to the actual target. He closes his eyes and takes a deep breath before muttering under his breath.
The Shadow: Ugh, if I do this at the show I won’t even make it to the ring… So… Jarvis King I can live with, Mia and Ataxia - a completely different story. We are fighting the same fight and yet we’re being pitted against each other… Oh well, not much we can do, now is there?
On the horizon some dark clouds have begun to gather as The Shadow pulls another arrow from his quiver and takes aim at the target once more. He takes a deep breath, then holds it before releasing the arrow and even though it look as if it true this time around (at least to hit the target per se), a wind gust blows it off course, followed by the crunching sound of glass breaking. The Shadow winces.
The Shadow: If this is an omen, I won’t even find the arena…
He shakes his head as if to return to the here and now.
The Shadow: This week shows how fast everything we know, everything we take for granted can disappear and change in the blink of an eye. A week ago Rish was ruling CWF, admittedly with a little, uh, help from Elisha, but still, Cali was a proud champion, the Oreos were running roughshod over CWF and Silas was on an almost hopeless losing streak. Now everything has changed. The whole Rish family has disappeared, Cali is fully committing to finally finding Dan, Elisha has taken cover after his carefully laid out plan over there went awry and Silas... ok, not everything has changed.
Some might say that this should help us, with the Oreos gone there should no longer be any wild attacks and the constant worry that someone could interfere, but in all truth, I do not trust this whole thing yet. It will take a while before we will be able to not have to look over our shoulders or into the crowd to expect a wall of grey suits or worse… Just because their grand master plan seems to have deflated faster than Billy Anderson’s title hopes does not mean they are gone for good… But one can only hope…
He pulls out another arrow, looks at it with a stern look and notches it. He closes his eyes again, breathing in and out and finally releasing. As the arrow embeds itself into the target with a satisfying thud, a small smile creeps onto The Shadow’s face, even though it barely scratched the outermost ring.
The Shadow: But on to the more pressing matters, Evolution 26. So Jarvis King, living legend of CWF. You’ve been hanging onto that Paramount title for a while despite some quite sizeable competition, but you have your eyes on the big prize, don’t you? Give it one more shot, go for one more run at the grandest belt of them all. One last chance before your body might finally give in to the years of use and abuse. Not many people would have thought you would come back to begin with, let alone hit your stride again in this way, “accidentally” winning the Paramount title, “your” title and clinging on to it with life and limb.
It is easy to forget that you actually are not that old yet, just because you have been around forever, but if you take your medical file as a reference point, you might be on your final laps here. Sure, you want to make the opportunity count and give it one final big shove, but are you able to? Don’t worry about being in the ring against three Forsaken for a moment, but will your body allow you to go through a Fourway match? Yes, you did pretty good in the rumble, but this is going to be far more intense, no chance to take breaks or hide in a corner.
A distant grumble starts to come from the horizon, where the dark clouds have started to roll in closer. After a brief look at the oncoming storm, The Shadow brings another arrow to the bowstring and lets loose. The arrow grazes the edge of the target, ricocheting off and embedding itself in the wood cladding of the Manor.
The Shadow: And then we have the Lovebirds, the match made in...not exactly sure where it came from, but rarely have I seen a yin and yang as perfectly entwined as with you two. Mia, Ataxia, we have been sharing a path, a connection for quite some time now and probably know each other better than anybody else in this federation. I know that lesser things have torn apart friend- and partnerships and I firmly believe that our bond as Forsaken is stronger than the lure of the gold.
Ataxia, one of my oldest friends in CWF and just one of the highly unlikely connections that is making our little group so special. But you have a lot on your shoulders right now, my frand, not just as Impact Champion. A lot of things have happened in the last two weeks and you are not in the same position anymore that you had been in. You always said that you had to defend CWF, your federation, your home. Well, you have all the tools you need now, being the new commissioner. And then Rish disappeared… No, I am not trying to imply that you’ve been involved in that, no worries, but still it is a game of “what if”?
He is holding an arrow in his hand, rolling it, rotating the head absentmindedly before using it to count.
The Shadow: What if it was not coincidence that you won that match? I mean, nobody knows what happened, was he taken, did he go into hiding, is he trying to play the ultimate mind game? What if he had planned the whole thing to happen and put you into this spot? He had been the one pulling you into the match, not you. And if so, was it because he implicitly trusts you to be able to do the right things for CWF in these tumultuous times or because he is looking for a scapegoat?
Technically the setup favours Jarvis, since he could feed off the dynamics between the three of us, playing us against each other and trying to bank on us maybe only giving 90% against each other? But either way, Ataxia, the wolves are out to get you. You have two targets on your back now, Impact champion and commissioner and you know that not everybody sees you as the protector of the fed, some may see you as an usurper, especially since you are still an active wrestler. Can you imagine what would happen, if you would win this match and then go on and win the World title?
He points the arrow at the camera now to emphasize his point.
The Shadow: How quickly not just the pressure would mount to juggle all three things at the same time, no, how quickly the suspicions would come up that it all was rigged, that it all was just a ruse to get your hands on the Heavyweight title. Doubting and attacking your impartiality, undermining your integrity and giving the wolves the blood they have been hungering for. So it might not come down if you can DO it, but if you can DEAL with it. And then...you also have to fight your love Mia…
He takes the arrow and notches it, taking aim, looking at the target for several seconds slowing down his breathing. He lets go and it looks like it is going for the centre of the target, but suddenly a second arrow comes into view, hitting The Shadow’s and knocking it off course. Immediately he whirls around and sees Myfanwy in the shadows of the trees, bow in hand, walking over. As she passes him to collect her arrow she snaps his jaw shut with her index finger. He shakes his head as if trying to wake up from some kind of trance while looking after Myfanwy retrieving her arrow.
The Shadow: Where was I… Ah yes, Miataxia. What it must feel like to stand in the same ring as your beloved, but not on the same side, but as opponents. No matter how professional you are, this is a factor and nobody will be able to convince me otherwise. Would you really hit with the same intensity, the same ferocity? Would you be as ruthless as you would be with others? No matter what you say, you will not pull through to the full extent, you will not use the same finality, because do you really want to hurt them?
Myfanwy motions for The Shadow to take another shot, but he shakes his head, motioning that she would just sabotage him again. With a fake look of indignation she shakes her head and motions again for him to shoot. He somewhat reluctantly notches another arrow and takes aim when she raises her index finger and has him aim a tad off to the right. With a shrug he follows the instructions and let’s go - and the arrow hits the bull’s eye. His look moves between his bow, the target and Myfanwy, who is laughing and holding her hands up apologetically for interrupting, but at the same time does not make any move to actually leave, but instead sits down on the grass and motions for him to continue.
The Shadow: Mia, you indeed do hold a special place in my heart. I know that you are troubled, in more ways than one, but the changes I have seen in you between your arrival in CWF and also here at the Manor and now are astounding. You were a truly lost soul when you came and now it feels as you have managed to find this sense of belonging. Finding Ataxia also definitely has helped you and together we managed to win the tag team titles. So it feels particularly weird to step into the ring with you, as opponents.
What might be your biggest conflict, and potential downfall, is who to hand the reins to, is it Mia or Amelia? I will not even pretend to know or even be able to imagine what must be going on in your mind, the struggle, the frustration of whoever is not in the driver’s seat. So far it has worked great for us, but we are a team and I do not know who is going to show up across the ring from me. The question is, how will you react? You call me your mentor, you call us four a family, so what are your feelings going to be when you step into the ring?
He looks at the ground, then at Myfanwy and back at the camera.
The Shadow: Some people have accused me of humanity, as odd as it may sound. Said that I am lacking the ruthlessness to succeed, yet here I am, holding the tag titles and I would think that I have been doing pretty good overall, so why my hesitation? Because I hold loyalty and trust in very high esteem. They say that all’s fair in love and war. That is not true. Lies and deceit have no room in the former and in the latter - while I do not consider our match war, I rather go out with integrity than win with underhanded tactics. I know that there are many that will not shy away from them in order to get to the big prize, to increase their value and will step over anyone to get there, even their allies, and if it means I am weak for not resorting to these modi operandi, so be it.
Mia, I will do what I have to in order to win the match, but after all is said and done, I will still be able to look you in the eye and extend my hand without regret and look forward to continue forging forward as a group, same for you Ataxia. Yes, my title history does not really speak for itself, haha. But to be honest, it felt better to beat Elisha in that forest than standing in the ring and competing for the big belt.
He looks back over at Myfanwy.
The Shadow: That being said, I am ready to take on the challenge, I am ready to take the next step! The burden of two belts? I have dealt with Elisha and his Happy Cookie Club for months and I am still standing. It is time for darkness to rise to the top...
He walks over to Myfanwy and extends his hand. As she grabs it, he pulls her to her feet and they set off towards the manor.
The Shadow: I did not know you were this good with a bow!
Myfanwy verch Owain: There are a lot of things you don’t know…