The FedEx Field in Landover, MD, the night of Summer Games. Tons of people are milling through the arena's catacombs, celebrating, brooding, arguing, setting things up for the break-down or just walking around without any particular purpose. The Shadow is pulling a carry-on with him as well as a laptop bag, threading through the masses towards the exit. He winces every time his ribs touch somebody while squeezing through and his face also shows some scrapes and bruises. As he walks through the exit towards a line of cabs, suddenly a familiar redhead steps in his way.
Myfanwy verch Owain: Where do you think you are you going?
The Shadow: The airport.
Myfanwy: But you are hurt!
The Shadow: I don't care right now, I just need to get out and away and clear my head.
???: Are you joining us?
The Shadow whirls around to see Sanford Thibodaux, Andrei Dolgopolov and Francis Walcott standing right behind him, with their luggage ready. He looks at them with a questioning look, leading Thibodaux to facepalm and sigh.
Sanford: They really rung your bell, didn’t they? We’re going to Makhnovia, remember? Epicentre and stuff?
The Shadow: Oh yes, yes, sorry, I’m just distracted, there’s been so much happening the last few weeks, my head feels like it’s going to explode. No, I’m not going to Makhnovia. Where are you connecting?
Sanford rummages through his pockets, pulling out a reservation.
The Shadow pulls out his phone to check the date and then hops onto Google.
The Shadow: You don’t have anything booked passed Vienna, right?
Sanford: No, not yet, we need to see first what the options are to get near Makhnovia.
The Shadow: OK, Sanford, try to book five tickets from Vienna to Salzburg for tomorrow, ok?
Thibodaux furrows his brow and looks at The Shadow with a suspicious look.
Sanford: O...K…? And I will do so...why?
The Shadow: You will see, but I think you’ll enjoy it!
Sanford: Good enough, give me a second.
Thibodaux pulls out his laptop and moves over to an unoccupied bench, while Myfanwy moves closer to The Shadow, putting her hand on his arm.
Myfanwy: I’m so sorry you lost the belts, the Aces kind of stole that pin.
The Shadow gives her a tired smile.
The Shadow: Meh, it was nice while it lasted, but it’s the rules of the match, they did not do anything illegal. What their masked companions have done after that, though, is a completely different story. I would never have thought that they would sink that low. But - they won the match fair and square.
Myfanwy: Yes, but still, you lost…
The Shadow: It’s becoming a habit, isn’t it? Well, as nice as it is to be able to call myself champion, it also kind of restricts you, because you can’t really choose and pick, but it is what it is. We lost the titles, now we have to look forward and see what the future holds. And my future, our future holds a trip to Austria, away from the whole brouhaha, at least for a little bit.
Actually Sanford, make that six…
The Shadow is looking towards the exit of the FedEx Field, where Mia is standing, leaning against the wall, looking bedraggled and down. He slowly walks over to her.
The Shadow: Hey.
Mia: Hi. I’m so sorry.
The Shadow: No, we’re not starting that again. Don’t be sorry. We did what we could and in the end it was just a matter of luck that they were able to capitalize. It was neither of our fault.
Mia: You’re right, but four in a row, come on. We were doing so good.
The Shadow: Yes and whatever goes up must come down. Gravity and stuff, you know? Anyways, you have any plans right now?
Mia looks at him with a furrowed brow.
The Shadow: Good, you have now. Follow me.
As they return to the others, Thibodaux is just packing up his laptop.
Sanford: OK, got us on Austrian from Vienna to Salzburg.
The Shadow: Cool, thanks! Now let’s go, we have a plane to catch!
As he sets off towards the cabs, Myfanwy tries to catch up with him.
Myfanwy: But you two have no tickets!
The Shadow: That might be a reason, but nothing we can’t overcome.
He flashes a smile at a somewhat confused Myfanwy and holds out his arm for her. After a moment she picks up her bag, takes his arm and they walk off towards the cabs. He calls over his shoulder.
The Shadow: Come on, slowpokes!
Myfanwy starts to giggle as Mia and the three men gather up their stuff and get going as well.
W.A. Mozart Airport in Salzburg, Austria. As the sextet steps out of the air conditioned terminal building, they walk into a wall of humid, muggy heat, hitting them like a wet sledgehammer. After the initial recoil from the stifling heat, they set out to find a cab that would fit all of them, finally climbing into a minivan with its windows wide open, no air conditioning. The Shadow leans forward towards the driver.
The Shadow: Griass Gott, zur Pferdeschwemme, bitte.
The driver gives a nod and sets off. Myfanwy, sitting next to The Shadow shoots him a puzzled look.
The Shadow (laughing): Pferdeschwemme, it’s an old baroque well in the old town of Salzburg, which they led horses through to either clean or cool off.
Myfanwy: But...you speak German? I did not know…
The Shadow: To quote someone we both know: There are a lot of things you don’t know.
As he winks at her, she slaps him in fake indignation.
Sanford: Can you two get a room… So where are we going there Mr. Bossman?
The Shadow: OK. Have you ever said that you wanted to go medieval on someone?
Sanford: Yeah, more often than I wanted to, but still…
The Shadow: Well, today you will have a chance to.
The Shadow: Just wait and see…
They reach the city proper and within a few minutes find themselves in the middle of the old town, next to the Pferdeschwemme well, which is right next to the cliff of a mountain. As the others gawk at the spectacular setting, The Shadow points at the mountain.
The Shadow: This is the Mönchsberg or Monk’s Mountain. It has big caverns in it that they’re using as a parking garage. Quite ingenious and convenient.
Says it and walks off towards a narrow pedestrian street with high townhouses lining its sides, many with wrought iron guild signs.
The Shadow: This is the Getreidegasse, one of the most historic streets of Salzburg. The houses here include the birth house of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart…
They continue through the street with his entourage pointing at different signs and stores and just being awed by the view. As they cross two more plazas The Shadow points up and on top of a mountain sits a citadel.
The Shadow: Festung Hohensalzburg, the fortress and our destination.
As the other five slack-jawed look up and around them at the cathedral and the old buildings and all, The Shadow sets off towards a funicular leading up into the fortress. As they glide up the mountain, the chirping of a phone disrupts the serenity.
Sanford: There we go, next card is up. You go against Jimmy Allen. Who the fu--dge is Jimmy Allen?
The Shadow: New guy, was in a match at Summer Games, but that is the extent of what I know, could you try to find out who he is?
Sanford: On it.
As the funicular door opens and the five step out into the fortress proper, it is as if they stepped back in time, because the scene unfolding in front of them is like pure Middle Age, with stands and acrobats, musicians and people dressed in medieval garb and regalia.
The Shadow: How much better can you celebrate a full medieval festival than in this?
He spins once, holding his arms out.
The Shadow: Go, look around, have some fun!
Sanford: Got something on Allen, here you go.
He hands over his phone to The Shadow before he, Dolgopolov and Walcott don’t waste a moment and jump right in. Mia looks a bit unsure, but The Shadow just motions for her to go and just have fun. The Shadow turns around to Myfanwy still standing there.
The Shadow: What’s wrong? You don’t want to join them?
Myfanwy: I’d rather go with you.
He offers her his arm and they stroll off.
One of the attractions at the festival is an archery range and it is obvious from the look on Myfanwy’s face that she is excited to see the men in their medieval clothing doing a competition for the show with medieval style bows. As she stands there, rapt with attention, he steals away from her and approaches one of the guys.
The Shadow: Servus, sog amoi, kunnt mei Freindin do eierne Bogen amoi ausprobian? (Hi, tell me, could my friend try out your bows?)
Man: Jo freili! (Of course!)
He walks over to Myfanwy, taps her on the shoulder and pulls her towards the man he had been talking to. She reluctantly tears herself away from the archers, but as the man motions her to come over, holding one of their bows, her eyes go wide and points at herself in disbelief and after a mouthed “Thank you” steps behind the rope. As the man starts to show her the bow and explains it to her, The Shadow sits down on a rock in the shade, wiping the sweat of his brow while looking on.
The Shadow: It is amazing sometimes, how you can focus on things to the point that you lose sight of everything around it. We’ve been battling with Elisha and his consorts, kidnapping a Russian doctor, battling for the tag team titles and in the end everything is just go, go, go. It’s so easy to forget that other things exist. And look at them…
The camera turns around and shows Myfanwy trying to get a feel for the bow, Thibodaux savouring a horn of mead , Dolgopolov dancing with a group of jugglers, Mia running after Walcott as he goes from stand to stand in the market.
The Shadow: All four of them will embark for Makhnovia later and God knows what they will find there, when they will try to get into the Epicentre. Will they get in? Will they find what they are looking for? Will they get out…?
He shakes his head.
The Shadow: Not a thought I really want to follow. But still. They are putting their lives in danger to find out on my behalf. But they will succeed, I know it. The good cause will prevail. But before we can even get to that, I will be back in the States, well, Canad actually, La Belle Province, Quebec. Home of the Jace... For us in CWF it is go, go, go as well. You finish a match, you get the card and you already start preparing for the next match. So Jimmy Allen. Brandnew to the federation, one Fourway match at Summer Games, unsuccessful, and now facing me. They say that winning is not all that important, that it is to give your best, for better or worse. Sure, it is true, but once you get the short end of the stick more than twice in a row, it can start to grate.
He leans back against the wall behind him as Myfanwy’s first try with the ancient bow barely makes it a few feet before it hits the ground.
The Shadow: So Jimmy, what does it feel like to come into one of the biggest federations there are right now? Is it intimidating or does it spurn you on to show these big names what you are made out of? I see that you’ve been in Boardwalk, not the worst pedigree to show for sure, but this here is different, especially of late. Lots of new faces, turmoil, title changes and tournaments and injuries and people disappearing, it’s been a maelstrom, so welcome to the madhouse, haha.
It is actually rare that I go against somebody brand new, but I guess that’s how it goes when everything is changing. One piece of advice, whatever preconceived ideas about CWF you’ve had, leave them at home, because this is larger than life in many ways, but herein lies your chance. With everything and everybody unsettled and trying to find calm waters you might just be able to weasel your way in and be at the right place at the right time. If that is your plan, then you have the perfect opportunity. At Evolution 28.
A smile comes to his face as Mia walks by with Thibodaux and Walcott, curiously and intensely looking at what looks like a crystal ball she must have bought from one of the vendors.
The Shadow: I have no problems with you, unlike with some other people in this federation, and not knowing you does not make things easier, for either of us, even though you’ve had more of a chance to watch us from afar before signing up. But don’t worry, I will not underestimate you just because I don’t know you. There is one problem for you, though. Like I said, I lost three matches in a row, some very hard losses on top of it, including losing the tag team titles. And now is the time to stop this slide, you are just unfortunate enough to be the one to stand in my way to halt the descent.
Now one curious thing is that you seem to know both Ataxia and Dorian from years ago and now you show up here. Coincidence? I think not, but it brings up an interesting thing. You seem to be, or at least have been on good terms with them, is that a good or a bad thing for me? I don’t know. But don’t worry because I am in the Forsaken. While we stick to each other through thick and thin, there is one thing we do not do - interfere to guarantee victory, even if we accompany each other to the ring, it is more, let’s say, for protection. We have been a frequent target for attacks, from the Oreos, now these mysteriously masked men that seem to be fraternizing with the Smokin’ Aces, we do not take chances. Maybe that is why they now make sure to lock and even weld us in or incapacitate us in other ways. Is it because they are afraid? It must be so, even though we have never been the aggressors. But thus is the nature of the game, I guess. We might be the outcasts and viewed as dark, as evil, but we are not. Sure, we do not fit into the cookie cutter moulds that many would like to typecast us in, but you will see that soon enough.
He gets to his feet, gazing at the skies above the mountains in the distance, where large towers of clouds have started to form. Myfanwy seems to have gotten a feel for the bow, since her arrows now fly all the way to the target. He smiles as he slowly walks towards the archery range holding up Thibodaux’s phone with the info he had found on Jimmy.
The Shadow: And here I am, talking more about myself than you, Jimmy. Like so many you went to Japan, a different world in so many ways, the culture, the food, the wrestling, soaked up the rigorous routine and discipline that they require for anybody to succeed. Looks like you even got your black belt in Taekwondo, so even if you’ve been away for five years and might be a little rusty, you don’t forget all of this. Yet I wonder why you came back after what is an eternity for a wrestler? What is it that drives you? The fame? The glory? The feeling that at your more advanced age now you need to prove it to yourself, to others that you still have “it”? The need for money? A myriad of different things can drive a man (or woman, obviously) to go on the pursuit of...whatever you are pursuing. By coming here you obviously feel that you are ready and I welcome the challenge.
But one thing - you have no idea what will await you when you step into the ring with me. No, I will not try to send you to the seven pits of hell or sacrifice you to the next best demon passing through Montreal, they will be far too busy tearing apart the anglophones, or squareheads, anyways, haha. But all seriousness aside, you better bring your A game, Jimmy, because hell hath no fury like The Shadow…
The guy he had been talking to earlier signals for The Shadow to come over.
Man: Sog amoi, dei Freindin, denkst du, dass sie an kloan Wettbewerb schiassn mechad? (Say, your friend, do you think she would want to do a little competition?)
The Shadow: I glaub ned dass sie damit a Problem haett. (I don’t think she’d have a problem with it.)
Man: Wuist drauf wettn? (Do you want to bet on it?)
The Shadow: Wia vui? (How much?)
Man: Zwanzk Euro? (Twenty Euro?)
Instead of replying, The Shadow extends his hand and the two men shake on it. Immediately the man shouts orders at his helpers that they are going to have a little shooting competition. Myfanwy comes over to The Shadow with a questioning look, her hands outstretched.
The Shadow: They want to do a little shooting competition and I signed you up.
Myfanwy: You what??
The Shadow: I know what you can do with a bow. They don’t. Why not have a little fun?
Myfanwy smiles and looks back at the men setting everything up and announcing to the patrons that a spectacle is about to begin. She grabs a string of leather from her pocket and ties up her red hair before stepping back over the rope with a determined look. Three arrows per competitor, closest wins. The first two arrows hit the target, but in the outer rings, while her opponent hits the first one barely onto the target, but the second one hits the red sector. As he steps to the line for his last arrow, he waits before letting go and hits the yellow bulls eye, resulting in a wave of applause from the crowd. With a confident smile he motions for Myfanwy to step forward and she takes up her position. She takes a few steadying breaths and looks over at The Shadow. With a mischievous wink she smiles and raises the bow, taking aim. She closes her eyes and taking a deep breath, she draws back the string. The crowd holds its collective breath and it is almost as if the sounds from the rest of the festival are muffled as well. She lets go of the string and just like when she had first revealed her bow talents to The Shadow, her arrow splits her opponent’s clean in half. The crowd gasps, her opponent’s confident smile drops to the ground together with his jaw and a roar of cheers goes through the onlookers. As Myfanwy curtsies to the fans and shakes her still starstruck opponent’s hand, the man comes back to The Shadow, a twenty Euro note in his hand.
Man: Host du gwusst wia guat sie is? (Did you know how good she is?)
The Shadow (smiling): Vialaicht? (Maybe?)
Man: Host me guat ausgschmiat, Gratulation. (You played me well, congratulations.)
He hands over the note and shakes The Shadow’s hand before walking back to his partner. Myfanwy casually strolls over to him.
Myfanwy: Why do you have money in your hand?
The Shadow: Because you are just too good.
With a quick movement of her hand she snatches the note and strides past The Shadow, waving the bank note over her shoulder. Looking at his empty hand he sighs and hurries to catch up with her.
Vienna International Airport, Departures level. Thibodaux, Dolgopolov, Walcott and Myfanwy are at the gate for their flight to Chișinău , the closest safe airport to Makhnovia. The Shadow grasps the hands of the three men, pulling them into an embrace, muttering a few words of gratitude and sincerity to each of them. As he gets to Myfanwy, he hesitates.
The Shadow: You know you don’t have to do this, right?
Myfanwy: Yes, I do. But I want to go. You never know, there might be some things about me you don’t know yet…
The Shadow is non-plussed and not sure what to say when the announcement for boarding of their flight comes over the PA.
The Shadow: Please be safe.
She nods towards the three men impatiently waiting.
Myfanwy: I have three guardian angels with me.
Thibodaux is tugging on her sleeve for her to come and board and she nods to him and turns back to The Shadow.
The Shadow: I want you back in one piece.
Myfanwy: Oh, you will…
Before he can react, she brushes a kiss on his cheek, winks and turns to hurry after the others.
Mia: Hello? Earth to Shadow! Yoohoo!
Mia taps on his shoulder and kind of peeks around at him.
Mia: If you didn’t notice, she’s gone. And I will be, too, soon, on that flight to Montreal? You know, the one you should be on as well?
Finally she walks around him, cocking her head leans in to look him straight in the face, him still having his hand touch his cheek.
Mia: Dude, they are going to start charging you rent here!
She flicks her finger at his forehead and finally he blinks and gives a start when he sees Mia this close to his face. She smiles and pats his other cheek.
Mia: There we go! He’s alive!
She grabs his hand and yanks him towards their gate, muttering under her breath.
Mia: This is going to be a long flight…