The low hum of computer equipment can be heard, together with the chatter of voices. The picture fades into a suite in the Kimpton Hotel Monaco in downtown Baltimore, which is bustling with activity after the news that Francis Walcott brought with him during the Paradise PPV. The “Moon Child Book” is laid out on the table, Luciano Berardi deep in thought studying the artefact. The Shadow is sitting at the head of the table, his head bandaged, face scraped and bruised, some of his hair scorched by the lightning blast that ended up sweeping him off the HMS Poseidon, handing Elisha the victory.
The Shadow: I guess Elisha authenticated the book with his reaction on the ship, I have never ever seen such genuine emotion by this man.
Sanford Thibodaux: Guess you hit a spot there, eh?
The Shadow: “Eh?” You are spending too much time in Canada!
Thibodaux blows a raspberry.
The Shadow: But seriously, if we get a reaction like that, this thing is big! Luciano, how is it going there?
Luciano Berardi (looking up from the book): Well, it’s written in an old form of Latin-
Sanford Thibodaux: There is an old form of that thing? I thought it was ancient no matter what. And dead.
Luciano Berardi: Yes. Just like any language it has gone through evolutions, this is a really old one. Plus whoever they had write this thing either is a master calligrapher or has serious issues!
Sanford Thibodaux: Probably both…
Luciano Berardi (laughing): Yes, you are probably right. Anyways, it is written in a scrawl that makes it really hard to decipher, I’m trying to get samples for each letter to see, if I can feed it into the system and then have it decode it instead of sitting on this for weeks.
The Shadow: Excellent. So Francis, what is your take on the Manor and Golobayov?
Francis Walcott: Well, after studying the layout, the guards’ shifts and patterns we would have an about 5% chance to get in there and about 5% less to get back out.
Sanford Thibodaux: I like myself some gambling, but I definitely don’t like these odds.
Francis Walcott: No, it looks like they learned from Caledonia’s little visit and they have really ramped up the security. We tried to see, if they had any holes during shift changes, but they have so much overlap that chances are extremely slim to find an opening.
The Shadow: So the doc is out of reach.
Francis Walcott: Yes and no. In the Manor, yes. But he does not stay in there all the time. He leaves the Manor every day at the same time and returns at the exact same time, give or take 5-10 minutes, which I would attribute to traffic. Stainthorpe is going to shadow him for a few days to see, if we can find a pattern as to where he goes every day and maybe we can find a way to access him there.
The Shadow: Good work! I guess for now we have to sit tight on that one, but for the manuscript, now that Elisha knows that we have it, he will stop at nothing to retrieve it, so we will have to find a way to secure it while we work on it.
???: With that I can help.
All heads swivel towards the entrance and a familiar face greets the Druids. None other than the Messiah Pariah is standing in the doorway, obviously enjoying the assembled men’s surprise and confusion.
Ataxia: I have both a safe place and a knowledge of Latin.
The Shadow: You never cease to amaze me. Now if you will excuse me, I will leave you find gentlemen to figure out the details, I have some things to address, let me know, if anything comes up.
He passes Ataxia with a nod and walks towards the door. After turning two corners in the long hotel corridor, he gently knocks at a door. It does not take long before Mia Rayne opens up and flashes The Shadow a brief smile. The wound on her forehead had to be stapled and still has thick bandages on it and her arm is not in a sling anymore to protect her shoulder, but she still is moving it very gingerly as it had just barely started to heal.
The Shadow: Are you ready? It is time to go, if we want to get there on time.
With a nod she steps out before closing the door and follows The Shadow out to the elevator that brings them into the parkade underneath the hotel. The Shadow helps Mia into the car and aids her with the belt, so she would not have to twist her shoulder, before taking the wheel and driving into the morning traffic of Baltimore’s downtown.
The Shadow: I feel for the young guy, he has the heart in right place, but he does not know what he got himself into, when he had to run straight into Elisha’s merry band of monsters.
Mia sighs sighs and finally just manages to whisper.
Mia Rayne: He didn’t deserve it. He was outnumbered and he needed help. I should have helped him. I can’t imagine how he feels. I might have a soft spot for little boy gamers that make dumb decisions. I’m worried about him.
The Shadow: But what about you? You got mangled pretty badly in your match, how are you doing?
Mia shrugs her shoulders and winces slightly, her left shoulder twitching suddenly. Her gaze flutters ever so briefly upward toward the gash on her forehead before replying.
Mia Rayne: Just a flesh wound and some slight discomfort in the shoulder. Nothing that isn’t manageable.
He looks at her with a knowing smile, knowing that she is trying to put on a strong face despite the pain she obviously is in.
The Shadow: Do you think you’ll be able to perform without risking any further damage? I would not want to see you get hurt more. Ataxia would take my head off…
It is obvious that he worries about the well-being of his fellow Forsaken, especially knowing a bit about the fragility of the young woman in the passenger seat, trying to find her place and finally seeming to be able to settle into a position both within the CWF and also in private.
Mia Rayne: He worries but I managed to help him when he needed it later that same night. I’ve had a week to recoup and I don’t see any issue with competing with you in further mayhem. I’ll be fine, I promise.
The rest of the drive is spent in silence, both deep in thought, but taking some comfort in not being alone. As after long last they walk up to the hospital entrance, The Shadow pauses for a moment, earning him a questioning look by Mia.
The Shadow: Hospitals are not my friend, not after what...happened. I mean, I never liked going there, but they fill me with more dread than anything else these days. They bring back memories… And not the right ones...
Mia Rayne: Me neither, but let’s go.
Together they make their way into the hospital and through the maze of elevators, walkways and corridors. Finally they reach their destination and Mia gently knocks on the door. After there is no answer, she quietly cracks it open and peeks inside, seeing the unmasked Impakt asleep, but all the medical machinery, bandages and more make her feel visibly uneasy. As they slip into the room, Mia motions The Shadow to wait at the door as she glides to the side of the bed, putting her hand on Zach’s forearm.
She bows down her head and softly speaks to the young man in the hospital bed. The Shadow looks around the room and feels reminded of all the times his wife and him had to make the journey to the hospital, the waiting, the tests, the frustration, both with the medical issues and the helplessness of not being able to find any real respite or even a cure. He takes a deep breath and closes his eyes, startled a little when Mia whispers to him, her discomfort almost palpable.
Mia Rayne: I am done. Please excuse me, I have to get out of here.
The Shadow: I won’t be long either…
As she slips out, The Shadow advances to the side of the bed with a heavy heart, seeing such a young man in such a condition after just following his heart a little too much and not enough of his brain.
The Shadow: I wish I could have been there earlier to aid you. If only you would have heeded my advice about the danger of Elisha and Ouroboros.
He takes out what looks like a business card and places it on the small table next to Zach’s bed.
The Shadow: If you feel the need to talk or otherwise need help or advice, I will be there.
With a final nod he turns and exits the room to catch up with Mia.
Fade in to the Inner Harbor of Baltimore, the sun is setting and is barely above the horizon anymore. Four historic ships are moored, from the lightship Chesapeake over the submarine Torsk and Coast Guard cutter Taney to the USS Constellation, a sloop-of-war, the last sail-only warship designed and built by the United States Navy, launched 164 years ago. As the camera moves closer, a lone figure can be seen outlined against the setting sun, standing in the stern of the ship, fitting as he had just been aboard a magnificent frigate off the coast of Atlantic City a mere few days ago. Coming closer, the camera shows The Shadow staring into the distance, his gaze vacant before closing his eyes and taking a deep breath, enjoying a moment of solace within the maelstrom of emotions and chaos that his life had become in recent months. After another deep, steadying breath he opens his eyes, as determined as ever.
The Shadow: Elisha, so you won our match. As much as I despise what you and your Institute for, I would like to congratulate you for coming out victorious in a hard fought battle that, despite what many people had thought, actually was fair and square after all. I don’t have a problem acknowledging this, but this was just a battle, the war is not yet over, but I am sure you know that already. But even before it all began, I knew I had won, when I saw your reaction over the “Lunae puer libro”, no matter what would follow. I guess this pirate managed to get his treasure after all...
A faint smile has appeared on his face, the movement of the muscles clearly hurting after the ordeal of the match at Paradise.
The Shadow: But looking ahead, instead of just a simple match the powers that be threw us into a Fatal Fourway, so we’re facing six people instead of two and to be honest, this has all the prerequisites to become a royal mess… The Harbingers, Danger Boiz, Revenant and Azrael… Guess it gets to show the diversity we have here, heh…
A sound from the entrance to the ship makes him turn towards the plank leading up to the deck and he sees Mia Rayne quietly ascending. He acknowledges her with a nod and brief smile as she moves a little further down the deck as to not to disturb The Shadow. Re-focusing he grabs a picture of the Harbingers, Silas Artoria and Autumn Raven first. Putting his palm on his forehead he sighs.
The Shadow: Silas Artoria - my special friend of late, calls himself the Psychotic Aristocrat, but in truth he is not much more than a flag in the wind. My Canadian friend, you set out with a grand master plan of how you were going to fight the establishment, fight against the subjugation of the newer talent, break up the old, crusted structures and lead your Coalition to victory. I see that this plan has truly worked out wonderfully for you, hasn’t it?
Let’s see. You got title shots, check. You main evented Evolution, check. You turned into a force to be reckoned with, kind of check. But if you look at the total of all the different checked elements, what do you have? No title, half your precious stable gone or in ruins, and a tag team partner that has squandered both title shot and main event just as much as you have. As much as you are trying to talk yourself up and into a bonafide contender for the upper echelons of this federation, as much is it obvious that you failed to deliver when it comes to your lofty expectations. Every. Single. One.
The Shadow begins to pace on the deck of Constellation.
The Shadow: You may take offense to me calling you a flag in the wind, I would assume. Well, I am pretty sure you are going to be taking offense to a lot more than just that, but that’s besides the point. Look at your plans that you wanted to achieve and then look at yourself now. You, my friend, have been run over by the freight train that is reality and not just once, no, it backed up over you again and then once more for good measure. The establishment you tried to bring down took care of itself and has completely taken itself out of the picture. Suddenly you offer people a “safe haven” from the turmoil that the Institute has plunged this federation into, protecting the established people around here from the new world order, so to say. You’re a walking oxymoron, and that the word contains “moron” is just an amusing coincidence.
This elicits a giggle from Mia in the background, inadvertently bringing a smile to The Shadow’s face.
The Shadow: It also does not seem like the most clever plot to put all of your eggs in one basket when devising your plan to take on Amber Ryan first and then pounce on MJ Flair as the final masterpiece. Again reality steamrolled right over you when Caledonia had the audacity to take the much coveted belt off our long-standing champion. So now you have another shot at a shot for the title and quite frankly, the odds are not looking good for you once more. Oh, before I forget, someone had brought up that question - what type of aristocrat are you actually? I don’t think you never introduced your rank, have you?
The Shadow brings the picture of the Harbingers back up and shakes his head.
The Shadow: Which brings me to your partner… Autumn Raven, one of the opponents in my very first match ever here in CWF and by now one of the cornerstones of both the Harbingers and the Coalition. Which, if you are looking at it more closely, right now is the exact same thing. You have managed to face MJ Flair in the main event for the big shiny title and staying in full canon of the Coalition, you managed to do what you guys do best - lose. You are the grindstone around Silas’ neck when it comes to getting anywhere in CWF, following him like a puppy wherever he goes, occasionally whacking him over the head with a chair, but other than that despite all the makeup and the big talk of being a psychopath, you’ve been barely more than a toothless old lionesse that prefers to lay in the shadows than actually hunt with the pride.
Would you have seen the light of day of a title shot, if it was not women’s power month? I’d wager a lot of money that you would not have, but rather would have languished in the lower regions of the card, battling against one of the Danger Boiz maybe? At least this would have had some potential excitement as to who might win the bout… You try to be intimidating, you talk the talk of being the crazy, pumped up psycho that will walk her own path and and stop at nothing, but it is difficult to do that if your path leads into nowhere and to stop at nothing you have to start something to begin with.
He tosses the picture up into the wind and as it gets carried away, Mia walks over to the gunwale and follows the photo’s fluttering path along the wind’s currents and finally into the murky water of the Inner Harbor. In the meanwhile he pulls out another one, this one depicting the long-time fan favourites Danger Boiz, Crazy Chris and Dangerous Dan.
The Shadow: Talking about the Danger Boiz, “Crazy” Chris, “Dangerous” Dan, I guess one could consider you the bedrock of CWF. Solid, unmoving and pretty much as exciting as watching a tectonic plate move. Or paint dry. Or grass grow. I’ll leave it up to you. But seriously, you have been in all kinds of matches, Paramount, tag titles, even winning on some occasions, but you have the dynamics of a glacier. Sure, the fans love you and you are generally likeable guys, but if there was an encyclopedia entry for “treading water”, there would be a picture of the two of you right next to it.
Now I realize that people have different levels of determination and drive, no doubt about that, but you exude the aura of indifference, of contentment with where you are and no real interest in advancing anywhere. There is no sense of danger, there is no excitement of craziness, no matter how hard you try to drive these points home, you are just…there. Maybe I should talk to Ataxia and get him to make two more of his belts, because you are the walking epitome of the “participation award”. Chris, no matter how much you stretch that you are crazy and insane and nuts and whatever other synonym your dictionary could come up with, it all comes off as contrived and repetitive, as if you needed all that effort to actually convince yourself that you are all of these things, when in truth you are not getting anywhere and doesn’t look much different for your brother… You seem to be working so hard to build up your facade, but just like in the middle ages, there is not much behind it once you look closer…
Mia is pacing in the background, intent on hearing what else The Shadow has to bring to the table for their upcoming match. The next picture is released into the wind and quickly replaced by one of Azrael and Revenant.
The Shadow: And then we have the unlikely duo of Azrael and Revenant. Azrael, you actually surprised me. Seriously. You have come a long way since you started out in CWF and while luck has not necessarily been on your side, you have impressed me more than once. That match against Mia was brutal for sure, but you managed to hold your own quite admirably. However the one big flaw that you have displayed in the past is still prevalent, you seem to miss that drive, that passion to excel, to push yourself and get past your opponents.
At the mention of Azrael’s name, Mia stops pacing in the back, subconsciously bringing her right hand up to her left shoulder, gently rubbing the still tender joint. Without taking his gaze off the picture, The Shadow extends his hand to point towards his tag team partner.
The Shadow: Another thing I would like to touch on is that while you seem to have a soft spot for Mia’s plight, you do not seem to share similar sentiments for poor old Ataxia and myself. While I appreciate you trying to watch out for her against those who prey, you might be misreading the two of us. I will let Ataxia address this part on his own, but do not project yourself and your personal issues from the past on others, for I am neither trying to hide in the shadows, nor is any of this here built upon a false or crumbling foundation. While it is true that grief has turned me into something I was not, that does not mean that it has taken over me, my essence, my being. Look at the Druids. Am I preying on their weaknesses? No, they are free to leave at their own will, if they feel that they would be treated better elsewhere, but they are here, they have been here for a long time, they are on my side fighting the fight against the evil that we now know is the Institute. But I would assume that despite your empty phrases of wanting to help Mia, you just want to stand aside and wallow in your own self-pity and look for the other pieces of yourself, win or loss, regardless.
He is taking a closer look at Revenant, the probably biggest unknown in the match so far.
The Shadow: And your partner is, well, we don’t really know what you are, do we, Revenant? Poor man’s Nerezza? You have to admit that in a group of oddballs, you still manage to stand out head and shoulders. So let me get this straight. You were raised from the dead by a wizard with some sort of amulet or something to make you bow down to his will? Well, then that kind of raises more questions than it actually answers, doesn’t it? How did he manage to get you back up? Do you have an actual soul or are you just a mere zombie puppet for some evil plot someone is trying to unleash upon...who actually? You know, you’ve got to admit that this is quite the convoluted backstory you have there, right?
So now you have had one fight against our fellow Forsaken Dorian and Xander Haze and ended up through a table under a roulette wheel. I guess one can say that you did leave an impression, but probably not quite the one that you would have been looking for. Now I know that Dorian is a very formidable opponent, I was on the receiving end myself, thank you very much, and Xander with all of his anger issues is surely not someone to scoff at, just ask Billy Anderson, but let’s be honest here, so far you have not exactly been able to make any noticeable waves. It has been a ripple at best, and now paired with Azrael I am not exactly expecting a tsunami either. See, I cannot shake the feeling of sensing this odd kind of familiarity around you. So if we have met before, it seems as if you have not left a very big impression with me, so the second coming will have to work hard to achieve that this time around.
And the last picture is donated to the wind as he finally turns towards Mia with an extended hand.
The Shadow: Now on the other side we have this lady here that shall attend to each and every one of you as well. How many had put Mia down as just another psycho weirdo that is too busy talking to the voices in her head to really get herself into any kind of formidable shape or focus on her opponents. Well, I am very happy to see that in the past few weeks she has more than just found her place in this fed and still continues to evolve and get better. This is the third time that I will share the squared circle with her and I believe that we have proven that we are more than just a random pairing of freaks. So many people discounted our group at first, but now with Mia and Dorian on board, prepare to be forsaken by everything and anything you know.
Harbingers, Danger Boiz, Revenant, Azrael - we are everything you are not. We are the antidote. You will hate us, but you will have to realize -
Mia Rayne: - we are all you have left…
Fade to black.