Chișinău International Airport. Four well known figures are depositing their bags into a black rental SUV before setting off in the baking afternoon sun. As the camera cuts to the inside of the vehicle, Sanford Thibodaux is at the wheel, with Andrei Dolgopolov next to him, equipped with a map in Cyrillic.
Andrei Dolgopolov: OK, take the R2 to Chetrosu and look for a sign for L743.
Sanford Thibodaux: Go straight until you yell at me that I missed the exit. Gotcha!
In the back, Francis Walcott is talking to Myfanwy verch Owain, trying to explain what they are headed towards.
Francis Walcott: You can still say no, it is not too late. What we are going into is like a warzone right now. After the coup and the renaming of Makhnovia into Pierreia international troops came in and tried to overthrow the overthrow, so to say, but Elisha is still holding on, they have a very strong rooting here.. It is a dangerous place and I really don’t want you to get hurt. There’s a lot of chaos and the Epicentre still could be an impenetrable fortress, but - at the same time it might be our chance to get close than we could have otherwise.
Myfanwy verch Owain: And once we get there, how do we actually get in, if others couldn’t.
Francis: Somebody might have left the backdoor unlocked.
Myfanwy: It has - a backdoor?
Francis: Well, if the cat is in front of its hole, the mouse has to have a way out doesn’t it?
With a light chuckle Walcott leans back and takes in the landscape with little villages and farms dotting the countryside and evoking images of many decades past, as if progress had forgotten about this country.
Myfanwy had nodded off on the way, just to be awoken by Thibodaux and Dolgopolov arguing.
Dolgopolov: You missed it!
Thibodaux: You told me to take the M4 from Dorotcaia to Dis.
Dolgopolov: Yes, and you are on the M4, but went the wrong way, dingbat!
Thibodaux: I did not, I went… Oh, I should have turned right, shouldn’t I?
Myfanwy rolls her eyes and quietly facepalms.
Myfanwy: Come on guys, I don’t care how you do it, just get us there, ok?
Immediately the two stop bickering and a tense silence falls over the SUV.
The SUV is stopped on top of a hill, pulled off the side of the road. In the plains below lies Dis, capital of Makhnovia. An odd mix between old grey, crumbling Soviet-era concrete prefab buildings, some old orthodox churches and some ultra modern high rises. And at the edge of town a huge building in the shape of an atom, the destination of this mission, the Epicentre. Myfanwy, Walcott, Dolgopolov and Thibodaux are standing in front of the SUV, looking down with very different emotions playing on their faces. Where Dolgopolov is as typically stoic as any Russian, Walcott seems to be already surveying the scene and formulating a plan. Thibodaux seems lost in thought and Myfanwy looks unsure, trying to grasp the enormity of what they are about to do and the smoke columns from various parts of the city do not exactly lift her spirits.
Sanford: OK, folks, let’s go, the sooner we go in, the sooner we get out.
He ushers the others back into the SUV and they set off for the final leg.
The Epicentre. Standing next to it, it looks even more impressive and intimidating than seeing it from afar. Bullet pockmarks stain the outside, some of the windows higher up are shattered, some are boarded up. Night has descended and an eerie silence has fallen over the city, a curfew still in effect, with groups of the international mission patrolling the streets of Dis. The quartet is wearing black full body suits and black balaclavas, trying to blend into the surroundings as much as they can, with the fence surrounding the building flattened in many places and at least half of the floodlights illuminating the perimeter broken or just not functioning, bathing the property into a dazzling mix of bright lights and total darkness.
Sanford: Now what?
Francis: We wait.
Myfanwy: For what?
At that moment a faint click alerts the four and a thin sliver of dull light pierces the darkness.
After taking another look around the perimeter to ensure nobody is close, they rush across the expanse of grass towards the crack in the otherwise seamless exterior of the Epicentre. One by one they slip through the door into a drab utility corridor that seems to be running around the outer perimeter of the Epicentre, sparsely lighted by single bare lightbulbs hanging at intervals. Myfanwy looks at the sole other person in view, a short man in a white lab coat who is a good bit down the corridor, acting as if nothing had ever happened. After a quick screen for cameras she spots several, but the way they are hanging off their wires it is obvious that somebody had taken care of them.
Francis: Follow me.
He motions them to follow the man in the lab coat and keeping to the edge of the wall they glide behind him like a shadow. After a short distance the man opens a door to their left and leaves it partially open, which reveals another corridor, brightly lit and with many doors, all looking the same, without a trace of the man in the lab coat. Myfanwy’s spirits droop, but Walcott picks up a folded note with a single number on it in a rectangle.
Sanford: What is this? Door 66?
After a brief look at the doors ahead of them, He points to their left and they file out of the corridor.
Room 66 was nothing what she had expected. Not exactly sure what she actually DID expect, room 66 was like the storage room from hell. After all the reports she had heard and read about how extremely organized the Institute was, this seems to be the one room that gets everything dumped into for the rest to look neat and pretty. This is like at my house, she thinks. Five white lab coats are waiting for them, together with a note.
Francis: Only skeleton crew left. Put on the coats. Wait for siren. Two look for room 312, third level underground. Elevator down hall. Two look for room 661 on sixth level underground. Bring the other coat. Keycards in coats. Good luck.
Sanford: Francis, Andrei, you go to 312, Myfanwy and I take the other.
Dolgopolov takes up the spot next to the door, while the others hide behind shelves over shelves of...stuff, waiting. The air is getting hot and stuffy and they barely allow themselves to breathe every time footsteps come close. Then after what felt like an eternity, a loud siren goes off, followed by what sounds like detonations, startling them. Immediately after a stampede of footsteps races past and when Dolgopolov cracks open the door, the corridor is deserted. The four slide out and walk to the indicated elevators, keycards pinned to their lapels, acting as if they belonged right there and nowhere else. Nobody rushing in either direction pays them any heed and with a quiet nod they wish each other good luck as Walcott and Dolgopolov step into the elevator.
As they step out of the elevator, Myfanwy feels disoriented. All the corridors look the same, the only distinction is different numbers on the nondescript doors. Thibodaux motions for her to follow and after what felt like an eternity they reach door 661. Nervous as she is, she reaches for the door handle, just to find that there is none.
Sanford: Guess we have to try these.
And he holds up the keycard. He slides it through the card reader at the side of the door and with a click the latch lifts. Hesitantly Myfanwy pushes on the door, which silently swings open. Expecting a room with files or other inanimate things, she inhales sharply as she sees that this is a completely different kind of room. A whole in the corner seems to be designed to be a latrine, a tray with crusted remnants of a meal and a dented metal cup are just past the door as the light from the corridor penetrates the darkness within. As they fully open the door, the light shines on a man laying on a thin mattress on the ground, unmoving.
Myfanwy: Sanford! Is he…
Holding up a hand to her, he slides in, crouches down and checks the pulse.
Sanford: Alive. Now I have a feeling that we’re supposed to get him out of here or something.
Myfanwy: And then what?
Sanford: Guess we will have to ask questions later.
He pulls on the man to get him into a sitting position and Myfanwy gasps.
Myfanwy: That’s, that’s this Australian guy!
Thibodaux leans in and pulls the stringy hair out of the man’s face. With a grim look he identifies him.
Sanford: Coulter. Guess whoever our mysterious host here is wants him out. Let’s wake up our sleeping beauty, shall we?
He pulls out a water bottle and squirts it into Coulter’s face, who awakes with a start and immediately starts blindpunching, barely missing Thibodaux.
Sanford: Whoa, Nelly, calm down, we’re here to get you out. We are with The Shadow.
Dean (hissing): He is the enemy. He is standing against Ouroboros. So you are enemy!
He jumps up and goes into battle stance. While Thibodaux assumes the same, Myfanwy has had enough.
She walks over to a bewildered Coulter and slaps his cheek so hard that his head almost turns backwards.
Myfanwy: Newsflash. Ouroboros is not all high and mighty anymore, it’s chaos out there, you are free and you are coming with us, if you want to or not.
With that she takes his hand and pulls him out of the room, leaving a completely flabbergasted Thibodaux behind, while Coulter, equally befuddled, follows her towards the elevators.
The now-quintet is rushing into the utility corridor and towards the door to the outside. Dolgopolov carefully cracks it open to peer outside and he hears the sounds of a battle from the other side of the Epicentre. He steps out, holds open the door and motions for the rest to follow and they make a dash across the downed fence and into the shadows beyond. As they reach their SUV, they file in and take a deep breath, taking off their balaclavas.
Francis: And who do we have here?
Sanford: Dean Coulter. Oz boy that got really lost.
Dean: They've still got my mother! If I don't tow their line she's Cactus!
Sanford: No worries, mate, they’re busy with more pressing matters than your mother. Once we get out of here, I’ll make some phone calls and we’ll get this, we know a few people over there, don’t we Francis?
Walcott shoots a quick look at Myfanwy and with a smile replies.
Francis: Yes, we do.
Dean somewhat relaxes, but still looks very tense.
Dean: You came here to rescue me? Are you deadset? Has Ouroboros really pissbolted?
Sanford: No, someone sent us to your room and we figured we’d get you out of there while we were in. Speaking of which, Francis, what did you find behind door 1? And Elisha is still in power in Pirouetta or whatever they call this now, just has his hands full with a few things.
Walcott points to a heavy looking bag next to him.
Francis: Paper. A lot of paper.
Sanford: Have fun reading…
With that he turns the key and sets out on the way back to Chisinau as fast as he can without drawing any attention to them.
The beep of a heart monitor starts to sound, together with the whirring of other machines. As the picture clears, we see a hospital room, lights dimmed and Mia Rayne laying in a bed, her head bandaged, a whole array of tubes attached to various parts of her body. Ataxia is sitting by her bedside, holding her hand, looking extremely tense and distraught. The Shadow quietly opens the door and slips in, keeping his distance. Without looking up, Ataxia addresses him.
Ataxia: I knew you would come. She has not woken up, she is not showing any more signs of life than when they brought her here a few days ago. I don’t know what to so. If I could take her place, I would in a heartbeat.
The Shadow quietly walks over and emphatically puts a hand on Ataxia’s shoulder.
The Shadow: You know the saying to better have loved and lost than never to have loved at all? While it holds some truth, it is mostly bull. If you loved and you lost, the loss hits you even harder. I have been there and I wish from the bottom of my heart that you don’t have to be in that place. Ever.
Ataxia brings a gloved hand to his shoulder, clasping The Shadow’s.
Ataxia: Thank you.
The Shadow: And this will not go unpunished. They will pay for this. And Jace will be the first one!
The Shadow: Yes, apparently he requested to fight me. But he has no idea what he got himself into. They will not get off just like that. That I promise to you and to Mia!
Ataxia finally turns and looks up at The Shadow and with a tired smile he says.
Ataxia: Thank you, my frand.
The picture fades as The Shadow gently pats his shoulder and quietly leaves the room.
The picture fades in to the lit nighttime skyline of Toronto, with the CN Tower dominating and the brightly lit Rogers Place to its left. Together with the highrises surrounding it, the lights reflecting in the still waters of the Inner Harbour. It is a tranquil scene with the hustle and bustle of the city seemingly miles away and as the camera turns around, it shows The Shadow sitting against a tree on the shoreline, closing his cell phone. As he puts it down, he closes his eyes, leans his head back against the trunk with a relieved look on his face. After a moment he dials before leaning back again.
The Shadow: Ciaran, just got the call, they are all out. - Yes, no problems there, the whole chaos helped them big time. - According to Sanford Francis got his weight in files with him. - I am not sure yet, they have to figure out how to get their guest out of the country. - Dean Coulter. - No, no paperwork or anything, Dolgo is trying to see, if he can shimmy something around in Russian. - Yes, I will. Thanks!
He hangs up again and for a moment ponderously looks at his phone. Finally with a nod he dials again.
The Shadow: Sam, this is The Shadow. - Yes, I know that you want to be alone, but I just wanted to let you know that we are bringing Dean home. - No, I am not, uh, fair dinkuming you. - Toronto, they are still trying to figure out how to get him out of there, but they will find a way. - Sure, just let me know. Bye.
Again he hangs up and plays around with his phone for a bit, twirling it in his hands before looking up.
The Shadow: So many things happen outside of everyday life in CWF, so many things that pale the petty differences and squabbles we have inside the ring. It puts things into perspective…
His gaze drifts out across the water towards the city.
The Shadow: But, it is a job, even though one that many of us are very emotionally invested into just as much as physically. And sometimes the emotional investment is larger than at other times. Not sure why, but some people seem to have a pretty sizeable beef with me and my fellow Forsaken and after the despicable attack on Mia last week, I’m now facing - I am not sure, if I am meeting the ringleader or just an additional body in the army of the masked men.
A gentle breeze is coming in from the harbour.
The Shadow: Jace Valentine, The World's Greatest Advice, The King of Canadian Controversy, The Host with the Most, The Mickey of the Mouse, we could continue like this all night. I know that you’ve been gone for a while, but it definitely was not long enough. I was more thinking about giving you a little more time off, maybe a decade or two. But seriously, it literally felt like yesterday when you screwed Duce out of the World title in the final of Modern Warfare.
And coming to think of it, how ironic that you now have teamed up with him in one of the most heinous acts in CWF history. You are one of these people that is able to read a situation and figure out how to use it to your advantage, no matter what the fallout. Any allies you have ever had were collateral at best, a means to an end. Or someone that will do the dirty work for you. Some call this a clever way to do business. Others call it an opportunist. I call it a coward.
A mirthless smile is creeping onto The Shadow’s face.
The Shadow: Standing against the authority of Sunset back then? Oh, it made you look like a hero, like the rebel with a cause that would stand up and face the challenge head on. Yeah, we all saw how that worked out, didn’t we? You ended up nothing more than just an adjutant, just another pawn in the chess game that others would play and move the figures across the board. That you so selflessly sacrificed yourself to save Cali… Let’s be honest, you can’t blame people for not taking it at face value.
Now we have the “new and improved” Jace Valentine. And you continue to do what by now a surprising number of them are managing to do - act as un-Canadian as it gets. You, Silas, Xander, not exactly a very flattering line up we have here. But overall you are still as much of the proverbial Jacehole as ever and as charming as ever. I feel sorry for Tabby when she gets the rude awakening that so many other people in this business and the world overall have had when they realized who you really are when you let your mask down.
He holds up the mask that Ataxia had managed to pull off Jace’s face in Montreal last week.
The Shadow: But on to the most recent edition of “Jace screws the world”. And no, this is not a cheap shot at your trip to Disney with Miss Ubetcha. Sure, you didn’t win the world title and now you’re banned from it even, but that doesn’t mean that you don’t have your eyes set on something in particular, especially since you managed to somehow team up with the Smokin’ Asses. Jace Valentine does not do things on a whim, he does not just jump into things without knowing exactly what is in for him. Unless he gets screwed like in the war for the Academy, that is.
He absent-mindedly twirls the mask in his fingers as he continues the features on his face hardening.
The Shadow: What has to happen in the brain of a person to beat someone within an inch of their life? What can be so important to resort to such tactics? A personal vendetta? Fear? Plain insanity? I do not see it, I do not see what could possibly be the trade-off from that. A threat to the tag team titles? The good old metal bar to the knee would have sufficed. No, there must be more to it than just that.
He shifts his gaze to the camera and this blue eyes are cold as ice as he stares daggers into the lens.
The Shadow: Jace, I do not know what exactly your involvement in the attack was, but even though it was Jones and Styles that did the dirty deed, you are guilty by association and knowing you for the cunning delinquent you are, I would not hold it above you to actually having been the puppet master pulling the strings in the background. What would you say, if we were to ambush you and work over your back and knee with some steel bars and chairs and whatever the janitor’s closet and the workshop have to offer? You would be the first one to cry foul and accuse us, the oh-so-evil Forsaken of underhanded tactics to give us an advantage and take out the almighty favourite.
He holds up the mask as he gets to his feet.
The Shadow: Like I told you and the Asses in Montreal, sleep with one eye open, because if you think that you have seen what the Forsaken are capable of, as they say, you ain’t seen nothing yet. We still don’t know how Mia is really doing, she is in a coma, courtesy of your two goons, but this will not be swept under the rug. I am not sure, if you have been the one pushing for this meeting, but if you did, be careful what you wish for, because you will regret the day you uttered these words.
He is now holding the camera in an intense, unwavering gaze, his voice low and venomous.
The Shadow: You are the poison that is running through the veins of CWF, you and your cohorts, Jones, Styles and the fourth mystery man… You are the leeching venom that tries to infest and infect everything and everybody standing in your way. We are the Antidote, if you like it or not. Welcome to Future World.
With this he throws the mask at the camera and the sound of fading footsteps can be heard.