Flames are flickering across the picture, interrupted by an occasional spark sent flying by a popping branch. In the background the soft whoosh of a downpour can be heard and as the camera turns from the fireplace towards the window, everything outside is obscured by shrouds of falling rain. Lightning snakes across the dark clouds, briefly shedding some light on the backyard, which lays deserted safe for one lone figure sitting in the middle of the lawn, facing away from the manor. His head is bowed down, his long hair matted by the onslaught of nature. The camera zooms out a bit, showing Myfanwy verch Owain standing at the window, her hand on the cold glass.
Myfanwy verch Owain: For how long has he been sitting out there?
Sanford Thibodaux: About an hour.
The camera turns to show Sanford Thibodaux sitting in one of the couches, his feet on the table, leaned back and eyes closed.
Myfanwy: Does he do that often?
Sanford: Not really, something must really be bugging him.
Myfanwy: Oh? For how long have you known him?
Sanford: Hm, about 15 years now.
Myfanwy: Has he always been like...this?
Sanford: No. Well, he has never been a very outgoing person, never had a lot of friends, but the ones he had and has always were close and important. He has helped me through a really rough time many years ago, had my back, unconditionally, even came down to New Orleans just for it. I never forgot that he would be there for me no matter what, so that’s why I came here when he needed me.
Myfanwy: I can’t imagine what he has had to go through.
Sanford gets up and walks over to Myfanwy, putting his hand on her shoulder.
Sanford: None of us can, my dear, none of us. All we can do is help and support him. He will talk when he feels he is ready.
Myfanwy: He has a son, doesn’t he?
Sanford: Yes, probably the only thing that kept him sane. He’s a smart, but stubborn bugger, he has been incredibly strong and he is one rock he can always lean on, a much as he sometimes just wants to tear out his hair about him, haha. But did you know that the suicide rate in widowers is 25 times higher than married men?
Myfanwy turns towards him.
Myfanwy: Seriously? Oh my God… Can I help him in any way?
Sanford: I think you already are.
With a brief nod he turns and exits the room, leaving Myfanwy turning back to the window with an unsure look on her face.
The rain is still coming down in sheets, a gusty wind pitching the relentless deluge forward, through the trees and on towards the little river marking the southwestern edge of the Manor’s property. The Shadow is sitting on the lawn in the back of the Manor, his hair soggy with the rain, partially obscuring his face, making it look like a dark veil in the murky twilight. Every now and then a lightning briefly casts its ghastly light on the scene, reflecting off his eyes.
The Shadow: So we lost the tag team match against Dane and Box, now we lost in the Champions’ Ball. But guess what? Evolution 25 - water under the bridge. Evolution 26 - in the past. We do not dwell on losses like some others do. We take them and use them to improve. There is a saying: “You are allowed to make mistakes, as long as you only make them once.” It is not about the mistakes you make, it is about how you deal with them and how you learn from them. I’ve been cast down far too many times and far worse than to let two losses drag me down and let’s be honest, the folks that Mia and I will be facing at Summer Games have not been doing any better than us, quite the contrary!
I have made my fair share of mistakes throughout the years, some more, some less grave, some that I never managed to correct. Regret is a heavy burden, regret about things said, things done and even worse, things unsaid and undone. Wrongs that will never be righted…
His words trail off as he closes his eyes and lowers his head. In the background Myfanwy steps out of the Manor onto the back porch, looking up at the rolling dark clouds and then onwards at the heavy rain drenching everything in sight. With a look of resolve on her face she steps out into the rain and crosses the grass to where The Shadow is sitting, paying no heed to the weather. She rounds the statue behind him to give him fair warning that she is approaching and squats down next to him.
Myfanwy: Are you ok? I’ve gotten worried, why are you sitting out here in...this?
He slowly raises his head and turns to face her, a faint smile breaking through the gloom.
The Shadow: I’m ok, I just needed some time away from everything. But you should not be out here in the rain, I don’t want you to catch a cold or worse.
Myfanwy: Don’t worry about me, I’m from Wales, if I don’t get drenched once a week, I might wither and die.
He can’t help but chuckle.
The Shadow: Good to know, I’ll make sure to keep a big bucket of water ready for the dry season.
Myfanwy: Don’t even think about it! But can I be of any help?
The Shadow: I am not sure who or what could help right now. The last few weeks have been rough emotionally, reliving a lot of things that I wish would stay buried in the past.
With a sympathetic look on her face she puts her hand on his shoulder.
Myfanwy: I am sorry you have to go through it again…
The Shadow: Thank you, but it is not your fault, not anybody’s fault around here. There will always be days like today, daunting days, where hope feels like it is way out of reach. The last two matches didn’t help either. But dwelling on the past doesn’t help things along, no matter what, so looking forward is all you can really do, looking for hope, for a future worth living for…
Another big lightning bolt pierces the gloom, followed by a mighty thunderclap that gives Myfanwy a start.
The Shadow: If you want, you can stay, I still have a few words about the PPV match.
With a brief nod she sits down on the soggy lawn, water streaming down her red hair, matting it against her head, her dress drenched, but she does not seem to care. After a brief smile at her, The Shadow turns again, closes his eyes for a moment and after a deep breath continues.
The Shadow: Smokin’ Aces, Duce and Freddie. It seems as if our paths keep crossing, but this is the first time where we technically stand on higher ground as champions. I know that this puts the target on us this time around, we are no longer the underdogs trying to get to our first title. But you know what? Everybody keeps saying that it is far easier to conquer the citadel than to defend it. And honestly, I had thought so as well, but maybe it is because I have an outstanding tag team partner, maybe because it has been a very long time since I had been in this situation, but this does not feel like a chore, this feels exhilarating, being able to prove that we are not a flash in the pan, but that we are a force to be reckoned with, in the long run!
When you look at our match, it is interesting to see how different each and every team is. You have us, Mia and I, complete opposites in many ways, pulled together by...fate? Despite our differences we have formed a bond that people probably have a hard time explaining rationally, yet we are a team, a true team, having each other’s back, knowing the other person, knowing the strengths and weaknesses.
Then we have the Smokin’ Aces. By many pegged as a future tag team, even when they were still facing each other in singles competitions, then you finally got together, borne out of losing streaks of both of you and you ascended like a phoenix from the ashes of your careers, winning the tag team titles from the Lost Boys while they were losing themselves, standing strong and united.
And then we have, well, I am not exactly sure what to call the two of you, maybe the Bickering Couple? Silas Artoria, Autumn Raven, both of you calling yourselves psychotic, but if I look at your careers so far, especially in the last few months, it is like plague vs. pestilence. You are big on words, but when it comes to actions, there is nothing more than hot air. You promise a storm time and again, but all we get is a vapid breath of stale air, if that.
He turns towards Myfanwy who smiles reassuringly while rain is starting to let up, the occasional grumble of thunder rolling along, but the downpour finally starting to subside.
The Shadow: Duce Jones, the Kid that Never Dies. Funny that you ended up losing to the guy that came back from the dead last week. Does it hold any importance to our match? No, like I said, what is in the past is in the past, I just find it a very amusing coincidence. Now I know I have talked about it before, distractions. I hope that your whole court brouhaha will not cause you enough distress to be a distraction at Summer Games, because I want you at your best, it is just more fun to break you down piece by piece, if you are not already damaged, so to say. But still, it is hard to completely quell any thoughts of the “what if” from the recesses of your mind.
I can just imagine your surprise when you unmasked Revenant and saw your old foe Pandy. Never take things for granted, I guess, but at least with us you know exactly what you are getting, eh? When I look at you, I see an odd tale. I see a young man that had a meteoric rise to fame, being at the right place at the right time and being one of CWF’s almost fairy-tale like success stories. And then the well ran dry. Well, you managed to find some water when you took the belts off our Australian friends, but then you fell victim to a force right out left field - us!
Now I know that you have been chomping at the bits to regain your glory, but there is one problem with that plan. These belts are not going anywhere, my friend. Obviously the same applies to you, Freddie, even though it would be a soothing balm on the old wounds that you are nursing. Before anything else, though, I would like to congratulate you on your induction into the CWF Hall of Fame, not many can claim to have made it into this illustrious group of people, even though a few of them are not that illustrious, to be honest, but you know what I mean.
The rain has finally stopped, even though the dark clouds are still as low as before, whipped on by the winds. After a brief look into the skies, The Shadow swipes the hair out of his face.
The Shadow: Anyways, it seems as if you have been struggling a fair bit of late, again, bad luck, some injuries and years in the ring, it is all adding up. I don’t even remotely have as many years under my belt, but--
He points to his bandaged ribs.
The Shadow: --I think I have a pretty good idea right now what it must feel like. I have tremendous respect for you, but it is hard enough in a one-on-one, a traditional tag team match might be a little easier at least, since you have a chance for rest, but at Summer Games it will be six fierce competitors, all in the ring at the same time and no rest for the wicked. All it takes is one lapse of concentration. What if your body does not listen for just one fraction of a second, just enough for someone to break through your carefully laid out defense? Oh, you don’t even have to be involved, anybody could pin anyone at any given moment in time on top of this…
Now speaking of distractions, will you be thinking of the letter? Will you be thinking about your “number one fan”? About what they have one or will do? Or who they actually are? Worry and fear are two powerful allies, stronger than any tag team you could possibly face. Do not underestimate them, because any pang of anxiety can spell doom, as can sorrow. I have been where you are and lower and I know how much it can affect, no matter if you want to or not. Little things can trigger an avalanche of emotions, can derail even the best and firmest plan and resolve. And the worst thing is that you cannot do anything against it. You will not feel it coming, you will not realize until it is too late…
He has closed his eyes and his fists are clenched. Myfanwy comes over with a worried look on her face, putting a hand on his shoulder, to which he replies with bringing his hand up to hers. His eyes still closed, he continues in a whisper.
The Shadow: When it happens, it can really and truly rear a very ugly face and there is no telling how your reaction will be. It is what made me who I am now and it brought me here. Yes, I am still trying to find answers and I will find them... They say that peace of mind can work wonders and I have seen it happen, even though it is far too easy to just let go, succumb to the draw and allow yourself to drift into oblivion and drown in sorrow. But it also can act as a catalyst for resolve, because quite frankly, you do not have anything left to lose. And while you all do not have anything to do with the cause of it, you all are part of my resolution, of my salvation.
His voice has grown from a whisper to a borderline scream. His head sags forward, his breathing laboured. Myfanwy comes closer, puts an arm around The Shadow’s shoulder and pulls him to her. She whispers something into his ear and he brings his hand up to hers, opens his eyes and mouths a silent “Thank you”. He takes a deep breath to steady himself and then fixates the camera , his blue eyes cold and steely.
The Shadow: Silas, you still think that you are God’s gift to this federation, that everybody should be at your beck and call and bow down to every one of your whims. Everybody likes Canadians, pretty much everywhere in the world, heck, even Jace could pass as one, in his own way, the anglophone Montrealais have a bit of a reputation to hold up. But you and your misguided nobility aspirations, making you think that you are all hoity toity and better than everybody else - wake up, nobody gives a rat’s ass about you and your “hereditary peer” bullcrap over here. Yes, the Queen technically still is our boss, but in truth we have booted her and her noble entourage out of this country a long, long time ago and whatever power you think you have within the system, it might power your lawnmower in your mansion, but that is about as far as it’ll get.
I’m sure that you will pride yourself of being attacked by the Golden Parasites, because you were such a big threat against MJ. Wrong place, wrong time, buddy, anybody else that would have been in that match would have kissed the ground as much as you had, so don’t even think about playing it all up like you usually do, but I know that you will regardless. Instead look at where you sit - your losing streak really is utterly amazing. There have been rumours flying around that Bobby Dean has asked to be booked against you, so he can get off to a good start for his CWF career. But seriously, time and again you talk yourself up, make yourself feel important and a true contender, challenging whoever is at the top of the food chain, but just as often they chew you up and spit you out faster than you can put an interviewer through a table.
And just look at the sheer irony of your “partner”, Ataxia really outdid himself with this one--
At the mention of his name, suddenly Ataxia bursts through a hedge in the background, skidding to a halt on the wet grass.
Ataxia: You summoned me?
Myfanwy wheels around wide-eyed, surprised by the Masked Menace suddenly appearing out of apparently nowhere. The Shadow, though, remains as calm as can be without even turning.
The Shadow: What is this? I just have to say your name and you magically appear?
Ataxia: Damned if I knew...
Ataxia straightens out his tuxedo and brushes off some foliage before giving a nod towards Myfanwy and walks out of the picture. Shaking his head The Shadow takes a deep breath before he continues.
The Shadow: Where was I? Oh yes, looking at your partner for Summer Games, Silas, I can’t help but wonder, if we will be facing two opposing teams or just one with two other people bashing their respective heads in…? I really think that Ataxia--
A big splash interrupts The Shadow and as the camera turns around it shows Ataxia dragging himself out of the little river at the far end of the Ravenhearst Manor property.
Ataxia: Uh, could you maybe not mention me at least for a bit? I’m about to...well… I don’t think you’d want me to show up like...that…
Myfanwy looks at Ataxia with a look of utter disbelief before looking at The Shadow and pointing at the hedge and Ataxia and the river. Despite the seriousness of what he was saying at the time, The Shadow bursts out in uncontrollable laughter. With an indignant look on his face Ataxia exits the picture again, this time towards the Manor, while The Shadow regains his composure.
The Shadow: So Silas, Autumn, your relationship always had been strained, to say the least, with the premise of the Coalition having been flawed from the get-go, a construct by Silas to further his very own interests under the pretense of forming a strong faction to undermine the establishment and bring hope to the newcomers. Well, we all have seen how well that went, from the “do as I say, not as I do” over the blatant exploitation of the stablemates to, well, failure in every possible sense of the word.
You have lost every single title opportunity you ever had. You have lost every single match in the last few months, I lost count, to be honest. You have lost everybody’s respect you have ever had. You have lost every single ally you ever had. You, Silas, are alone, alienated, the laughing stock of not just CWF. And now you have to team up with the very person that had stood with you the whole time and that in the end you dropped like a dirty rag that you don’t want to soil the rest of your precious wardrobe with. If you want to see an egoistic asshole done right, look at our compatriot Jace Valentine. Yeah, when he dies they’ll have to kill his mouth another time for it to actually shut up, but he actually will walk the walk as well.
Sanford Thibodaux is walking into the picture from the manor.
Sanford Thibodaux: Boss, sorry to interrupt, but did you know that Atax--
Myfanwy: Do not say his name!
Sanford: Who? Ata--
Myfanwy: Will you shut up already?
Sanford: I knew it, he’s Volde--
Myfanwy: Ah shush, I’ll explain later. What is he doing?
Sanford: He’s in the kitchen and--
The Shadow: Is anything on fire?
The Shadow: Does it look as if anyone is not going to make it?
The Shadow: OK, then it can wait for a moment. But thank you for letting me know.
Sanford briefly salutes and is on his way back to the Manor, presumably to keep an eye on He-who-shall-not-be-named.
The Shadow: Now on the other hand Autumn, for a while it felt like Silas was rubbing off on you, because it seemed for a long time that you were busier trying to figure out Silas and his passenger than actually pay attention to the opponents you had. Even when you stepped into the ring in solo matches, you kept going on about how much of your own person you are. That you would bring it in the ring and whatnot, but just like your former cohort, it was lukewarm air at best. You, too, had turned into another laughing stock of the fed, because nobody would take you seriously anymore. The big bad wolf that claims to bring the claws out, but cuddles up when faced with the opposition.
But it looks like you almost needed to be thrown into these crates by Silas for your spirit to wake up from its slumber. Suddenly you showed fire and conviction and if it wasn’t for MJ, who knows how you might have fared last week. But now that you are your own master again, what will you do? Where will your path lead you? Do you want your ultimate revenge on Silas? Do you want to aim higher and go for the gold? One word of advice, and one that Silas time and again has ignored: do not aim higher than you can reach. Like I said, if you continuously aim for the stars and can barely even get close to the moon, you know that something is wrong and not working.
I must commend both of you, though, for not giving up, well, you may have subconsciously given up, but at least you didn’t just run away with your tails tucked between your legs. So that kind of masochistic tenacity does deserve some appreciation, but then again - you have not shown any signs of your impressive streak to end any time soon either and it sure as heck is not going to end at Summer Games! I know that Mia’s and my short losing streak is nothing compared to yours, but there is no way in hell that it will continue this week. The titles are firmly in Forsaken hands and that is where they will remain.
As much as his eyes were blazing with passion, as much the lustre disappears as he finishes his spirited speech, with the sorrow of earlier creeping back in. Sensing that he is done, Myfanwy comes closer again on her knees, putting her arm around his shoulder and resting her head on it. A small smile finds its way on The Shadow’s face as suddenly a large shadow flies over, making Myfanwy give a start. He pulls her in with his arm.
The Shadow: No worries, it’s only Nightshroud.
As she says the name, a large snowy owl glides into view, landing in front of them, fixing them in its stare.
The Shadow: Myfanwy - Nightshroud. Nightshroud - Myfanwy.
The owl gently hoots.
Myfanwy: She is beautiful!
The Shadow: Yes, isn't she? And you know what? She eats cockatoos…
Suddenly from the distance a familiar voice can be heard.
Ataxia: Squaawk. World Title! World Title!
And the picture fades as both The Shadow and Myfanwy start to laugh.