Several days after Summer Games
If there is one word that best summarises Zach’s mind at this present moment, it is conflicted.
The night immediately after the end of the Summer Games pay-per-view passed in something akin to a blur. After being released by the medical team, his shoulder needing some attention, he had returned to his hotel room. The hours passed painfully before Celia Lockheart had appeared at his door and next…well…it wouldn’t take much to figure out what followed. The next morning, after the euphoria and adrenaline dissipated and Zach awoke to the form of Celia beside him he was overcome with a mixed bag of joy, shame and guilt. He couldn’t deny not wanting what happened, but there were other elements at play. They day has begun with Celia’s words of ‘We need to talk’. She and her father would be returning to England, despite how much she wanted to stay. Instead she invited Zach to return with her, to a life at the humble and homely Lockheart pub, to a life together. There was some undeniable appeal in that offer, but deep down Zach knew such a quiet and peaceful life was not meant for him, and as much as he felt love for Celia, she had always been there to lift him up during his time of self-exile; he had to admit that he wasn’t in-love with her. The young English woman, having proved herself braver and more indomitable during the entire experience with John Kreese and Xander Haze than given credit for, seemed unsurprised by the admission.
Their parting of ways was tearful, yet remained steadfastly friendly.
That brings the young Philadelphian to his current predicament, where a second awkward conversation awaits him. The young man claims any number of rooftops throughout the Pennsylvanian capital as his situational Fortress of Solitude based upon his need. All except for one, the rooftop of the main hall of his High School, reserved as a special place shared by him and his erstwhile childhood friend, Leona Gainsborough, who awaits Zach this very night. Uncertainty and hesitation, fuelled by his growing feelings of guilt and shame, weigh his strides down as he approaches. Even the scaling up to the rooftop proves harder than normal, having nothing to do with the injured shoulder. Atop the rooftop Leona awaits. Zach is rooted in place, stunned into stillness as he stares, mouth agape. Always a stalwart figure of hardy confidence, Zach now looks upon Leona in a new light as she wholeheartedly expresses her femininity in a stunning red dress, strapless and split on one side, exposing a leg all the way up to the upper thigh. Sufficed to say it is not what Zach is expecting. Nor are the lit candles dotting the surface of the roof.
“I’ll take that as a compliment.” Leona teases Zach in his stunned and speechless state.
The young man, willing to get involved in fights and throw himself off great heights without a moments pause begins to blush. He fails to form words, stumbling drastically.
“Take your time.” Leona replies, amidst a fit of giggling.
Finally Zach finds his wits.
“Leona, you look…well you look downright amazing. Beautiful even.”
“That was the idea.”
“But, what’s the occasion?”
“You are, you Level 1 dolt!” As is the norm for the two, Leona takes the lead and pulls Zach in close. “There’s no Walkthrough for this sort of thing and I obviously can’t wait for you to take control, since you made me wait for this meet-up. So here I am.”
They share a very passionate kiss.
Having grown up together, the two young people had discovered and experimented with their sexuality together.
But this…this was vastly different.
Where that had been curiosity and hormones, this was unrestrained affection and intimacy. Years of repressed and ignored feelings were finally acknowledged. Time seems to pause, the single moment dragging for eternities. The memories of his recent night with Celia return to Zach unbidden and he pulls away.
“What is it? Is something wrong?”
“Not with the kiss…”
Her response is a mix of confusion, concern and annoyance. The only way forward is the upfront and honest truth.
“I’ll be leaving again in a couple of days…”
Leona moves away from Zach, regarding him silently in an attempt to understand his rebuke.
“Leaving? What do you mean leaving?”
“Summer Games was an eye-opener. I finally think I’ve crested my slump but am not quite there yet.”
“What do you mean? You beat the Bad Guy, saved the Princess-Wait. It’s her isn’t it?”
“What?! No. Leona, it’s not-“
“I should’ve known. What did she collapse into your arms, the Damsel in Distress, and thank you for your daring rescue?
“Leona, now that’s not fair!”
“Don’t give me that shit Zach. I’ve seen the way you looked at her, or the way you talked about her. And if that’s what you want. Then fine. Go. Leave me behind again. But this time…Don’t you dare come back!”
With an unintentional flurry of her dress Leona turns on her heels and storms off. Leaving Zach feeling more guilty and conflicted then when he arrived. Leona was right about one thing, there are no Walkthroughs for this sort of thing, and in that moment Zach hated it.
Between Evolution 30 and Evolution 31
In between the Evolution of his daring return to the CWF in Memphis, and the following Evolution in Nashville, where he takes to the ring to battle Loki, Zach needs to make a very important pit-stop to his home of Philadelphia. After all, coming to the aid of his Forsaken friends is not the only reason he is coming back. He also returns to rectify one of his most grievous (in his opinion anyway) mistakes. Hence his journey takes him to the front door of his friend and mentor, John Irvine, recovered and out of the hospital following a brutal attack from the abhorrently villainous PI, John Kreese. With a sigh, Zach steels his nerves and raps on the door. Familiar sounds of playful banter and reverie are heard within. After a few passing moments, the door is opened. Not by John Irvine, but by Leona Gainsborough who is not expecting to see the young Zach standing in the doorway.
“Zach? What are you doing here?”
“Your parents told me you were here.”
There is a flicker of delight that crosses Leona’s face, though if you blink you would miss it, as it is swiftly replaced by a more defensive scowl. She clearly has not forgotten their last conversation together. Zach is quick to press on, lest he loses his nerves and backs down, or Leona cuts him down.
“I know you told me not to come back. But…well I had to.”
“Cause you’re right. There are no hacks or cheat-codes to this sort of thing, but I’ll be damned if I don’t try and download a patch to fix this. I didn’t know why I couldn’t just come out and say it before, but call me the Cowardly Lion cause while I was gone I found my Courage. Leona, I love you. I’m pretty sure I’ve always loved you, just couldn’t realise it til now, and I’ve come back for you.”
“You left me Zach. Twice.”
“I know, I’m a bigger prick than Hans Gruber, but I want you with me this time. I NEED you with me. You push me to be better, in so many ways, and without you I’m not even simply Zach. I’m far less. I’m sorry that I wasn’t at a high enough level to unlock this ability until now. But I promise my main quest now is to make it up to you.”
“Oh go on!”
A voice behind Leona shatters the suspense of the moment and the two shift their gaze to regard the actual resident of the house, John Irvine, curious as to why Leona is taking so long at the door. There is no denying he is happy to see Zach.
“John, please don’t get involved.”
“Why not? The two of you have been tip-toeing along this line for YEARS. It was cute at first but it’s getting a bit old hat. Zach is here right now, standing at the door, for YOU! Isn’t this what you wanted? At least that’s what you told me.”
“John!” Leona hisses in shock and surprise as John reveals the inner thoughts she had confided to him.
“You even drove to the airport the day he left. So don’t pretend like you aren’t willing to forgive him.”
“Damnit John! That was a secret. I had to at least try to punish him if he came back.”
Zach is taken aback by these revelations.
“You were at the airport?”
On the day Zach had left, every step he had taken queuing up to board his flight he had looked around the terminal in a desperate hope that he would see Leona there. Every step he was more and more disappointed. Not that he held her at fault for not being there…
“Yes, I was.” Leona looks ashamed, “But I was still hurt and I couldn’t bring myself to accept you were leaving again. I’m sorry.”
“I always hated soapies.”
The young couple are interrupted once more by John Irvine, who practically pushes the two outside his door.
“You two have got some making up to do. So go. Enjoy yourselves.”
Zach and Leona spend a few moments just standing before the front door, unsure what to do or say. Leona keeps her gaze cast downwards, unable to meet Zach’s eyes, who studies Leona, searching for any sign of what to do next. Finally Zach gingerly extends his hand. Leona cocks her head to regard her childhood friend. This is a defining moment, a point of no return where their friendship of countless years would evolve into something more. There are risks. But neither Zach, nor Leona seem to care. Without any further hesitation she happily takes his hand. Zach pulls her close.
“Achievement Unlocked.” He proudly proclaims.
“You’re such a dork.” She replies with a laugh.
Together they claim the night.
Present day (Couple of days before Evolution 32)
The Café, literally named, in Louisville, Kentucky seems a rather surreal location for the enigmatic members of the Forsaken to meet. It is a highly regarded venue on Brent st, known for its speciality in southern dishes. Though the only thing that is of keen interest to Dorian Hawkhurst is their ability to brew a good, strong coffee. So far he is not found wanting.
“The young man organises the meeting, yet is the last to arrive.” The Shadow proclaims upon arriving, greeting his fellow stablemate and his daughter, Chloe, with a friendly nod.
“Kids these days…” The Forsaken Demon adds in jest, with a stray glance towards his own daughter.
“Hey!” Chloe replies with a half-hearted jab to Dorian’s shoulder.
It is pleasing for the leader of the stable to see that despite their current hardships and obstacles, there still exists a cheerful sense of camaraderie and intimacy.
“Should we be concerned for the young one?” Shadow asks, directing the conversation to a more serious matter as he takes his place at the table.
“Zach? I have a feeling we’ll always have to worry about that one, but perhaps that’s just the inner paternal figure in me. He has a penchant for running headlong into fights and getting himself into significant trouble because of it. But then if he didn’t, I don’t think he’d be the same Zach we know and love.”
“True. But still…”
“Well let’s see…Ouroboros, Xander, and now Loki. So far he’s 1 to 1. Would hate to see him regress if things against Loki don’t go well.”
“Which is viable…”
The gossiping stablemates are interrupted by the roar of a motorcycle engine, as the green-and-black Yamaha, pulls into the Café’s carpark.
“Speak of the devil…”
“Bit young for a mid-life crisis isn’t he?”
“All part of his rediscovered identity. As you so aptly put it Dorian…Kids these days.”
It is a most heart-warming reunion as Zach joins his friends and stablemates. The masked member of the stable, Ataxia, is too inundated with Commissioner Business to attend the catch-up and meeting it seems. It’s almost as if keeping an entire federation on track is hard, time-consuming work and someone in their infinite ‘wisdom’ thought Ataxia was the man for the job. With Mia Rayne also currently missing that left the ‘survivors’ to convene.
“Still one to enjoy making an entrance I see.” The Shadow teases.
Not that the Weaver of Dreams is incorrect, if Zach’s surprise return is anything to go by.
“You’re gonna make the rest of us look bad kid.” Dorian adds as they all do the rounds, being formally and officially introduced to Leona Gainsborough, who has joined Zach.
“What can I say, once I found myself again I realised I was gonna have to dial it up to over 9000 and never stop. So what’s the happs?”
“Besides the manic elephant in the room?”
“Ah. You mean my match against Loki?”
“Do not think we do not appreciate your assistance. However, the risks inherent with this Inferno match are considerable.”
It appears that Zach has yet to mention his predicament to Leona…Whoops.
“You mentioned you were facing some unhinged chick with a violent streak. But nothing about an Inferno match?”
“Oh yeah…Must have slipped my mind…”
Despite his clear sheepishness, Leona’s raised eyebrow response is a clear promise to Zach that a conversation is to be had later.
“It’s all well and good you want a social call Zach, but c’mon. This is some serious shi-“ Dorian quickly looks to his daughter, “some, ah, serious stuff…”
“Ok. Ok. I suppose I may have got a little carried away. But the only way to beat Loki is at her own game. Sure I’m at a disadvantage in an inferno match, I won’t be able to jump around as much, but I can still strike hard and fast, hitting worth a damn, and I’m not about to let her go unpunished. She’s tough, but she’s no Motaro.”
“Who?” The Shadow asks.
“Oh, a centaur like boss from Mortal Kombat 3. Notoriously difficult.”
“C’mon guys. Why so serious? You don’t have to worry so much. I am fairly certain I know what I’m doing. While I was away, I realised what I needed to do. What I needed to become. I see a CWF being overrun by villains. People like Loki, Dane and the Glass Ceiling. And I realised why previously I would never get very far in my prospective wrestling career. My intentions were focused inwardly and selfish. But here I am, ready to do whatever it takes to protect the CWF and my friends within it. To fight for truth, justice and the sweet pops. And if that means putting my wellbeing on the line in a fiery fiesta against some tricked out wacko then so be it! I may not be the hero the people want, or deserve. But they got me regardless. It’s the least I can do. And when I beat her you guys may finally get some answers. I certainly want to know how she got those scars.”
“I will confess a most pressing need to discover what Loki knows of Mia, but…I want to have faith in you Zach, it’s just…well Loki Synn is not an easy opponent by any measure and her proclivity for wanton violence and extreme measures is a grave concern. To you, to us, to the CWF at large.”
“More reason why she needs to be beaten.”
“Zach…” Leona interjects and an awkward silence falls upon the group, as they study each other. “I’ll admit I’m not too keen on the prospect of you in this inferno match. It’s a far cry from the rooftops of Philly. But if you’re sure you can do this. Well then I’m with you. All of the way.”
“I’m sure I can do this, but mostly because I HAVE to do this. Just like I had to win against Xander. I’ll make sure the Forsaken get the Good Ending. One way or another. Sure we know next to nothing about her. She popped out of some vile Pokeball with little else but a desire to see the Forsaken torn asunder and that lack of insight may be dangerous. But I’m nothing if not adaptable. I’m all about breaking limits nowadays and Loki has no idea what I’m capable of. SHE has no idea of what’s to come. I’ve been fighting, one way or another, my entire young life and the fire that burns around the ring will falter in comparison to the fires burning inside my heart, my very soul. I’m the Game Changer after all. The rules don’t apply to me…their more like guidelines. And by my Powers Combined I will see Loki beaten. Defeated. And then she will be forced to reveal what she knows about Mia.”
“Very well. You have your goal. And we shall have ours. But regardless the Forsaken remain united.”
“I’d drink to that.”
“Health Potions all-round! And enough talking shop! Tell me what else has been going on with you guys since I’ve been gone.”
Though the concern towards Zach is still great, his unabashed confidence and optimism proves infectious and eventually the members of the Forsaken are able to calm down, dispel the tension and just enjoy their time together, forgetting about their woes and worries, even if just for the briefest moment.
Leona Gainsborough separates herself from the companions and watches in wonder. Having grown up with Zach she is pleased beyond measure to see that the young man still has ways to surprise her. Though she does need to talk to him about the extreme situations he carelessly finds himself in. At the end of the day who is going to save the hero if a situation proves too much for him.