Night of Evolution (Louisville, Kentucky)
“This may sting a little…”
It's always worse than it's made out to be. Regardless Leona Gainsborough does her best to forewarn her boyfriend, Zach van Owen, as she applies medicinal cream to the severe burns upon his back and shoulders. The result of a hard fought and extreme bout against Loki Synn. A bout that Zach had ultimately lost and wasn't doing a great job at hiding his disappointment.
“Don’t worry, I can take-Ah! God damnit! That’s a chunk off the Health Bar.” Zach seethes through gritted teeth.
“…I did warn you…and what did you expect, the ring was surrounded by Fire for god’s sake Zach!”
Trying, but ultimately failing to maintain a brave and tough face in front of his partner, Zach turns to regard Leona.
What he sees on her face is not condemnation, but sincere concern.
It’s a different side of Leona he still needs to get used to. She is always a self-assured and confident individual, one who has bested Zach many a time in their various backyard and fight club exhibitions. He places a hand reassuringly on hers. She pauses to smile back at him. They are both in strange and foreign territory after admitting the depth of their feelings towards each other, changing the dynamic of their relationship.
It is very much a confusing new journey for the both of them.
“I kinda knew what I was doing.”
Leona rolls her eyes.
“Not inspiring much confidence. Especially cause you know, you lost…”
Leona is clearly the more grounded of the two and her comment is intended as a cautionary tale, instead of a jab.
“Alright, so maybe I should have hit Down to Forward and A, instead of Back, Forward and A. But in the words of Elton John…I’m Still Standing.”
“Elton John? C’mon Zach, your dork is REALLY star to show.” Leona tussles his hair playfully.
“I may have lost, but I’m not defeated.”
Though his solemnity kinda kills the playful mood, Zach’s infallible optimism and resolve are just a couple of the many things Leona finds adoringly endearing. So she can forgive him this one tim.
“So this thing with Loki isn’t over then?”
It is not a question, but merely a statement, with no consternation or despair within her voice, nor showing upon her expression.
“Not by a long shot.”
Zach and Leona share a solemn nod, and with it unspoken acknowledgement of mutual understanding. He knows what he asks of his partner, to support him and be there for him as he pursues his crusade. A venture that likely poses considerable risk to his health and wellbeing. The Ring of Fire match is only the beginning and things may very well get more dangerous and violent. While she understands that he won’t back down, that this is a battle he must fight, and though she will only naturally worry, she also respects the decision. After all she knows Zach better than most, and it is every bit a part of him.
They wouldn’t have it any other way.
“Besides, that’s why I got you. To watch my back when I do something so spectacularly stupid…”
With things getting a tad too deep and heavy, it is time for a change of topic.
“Not the only reason I hope…” She replies coyly, determined to bring the playful mood back.
“Of course not. Despite you constantly kicking my arse on Marvel vs Capcom 3.”
Zach lightheartedly groans as Leona momentarily leaves his side to procure a Playstation 4 console from her duffel bag, plugging it in and setting it up through the TV in their room at the Red Roof Inn, in Louisville. It might seem weird that someone would pack and carry an entire PS4 console on the road with them…but this is Zach after all. Such things are common place!
It’s moment like these that help downplay the sting of defeat. Moments that Zach had imagined growing up, was the life of a professional wrestler on the road. They give the young man the very thing he wished to become a symbol of within the CWF.
Leading up to Hellbound (Detroit, Michigan)
As disappointed as both Zach and Leona are that he isn’t competing at Hellbound, they don’t complain about the chance to spend some time together and experience much of what Detroit, Michigan has to offer. Their extended date takes them on a trip through history, with such sights as the History Museum, the Museum of American Innovation and Greenfield Village, amongst many others.
It’s the sorts of things you might find on a Top 15 Tourist Attractions list found on Google.
As the week passes, they deign for a change of pace and their travels lead the couple to Motor City Marketplace. As they are wandering through the bustling contemporary bazaar, Zach pauses for a moment, looking to Leona and generally reflect on things since returning…again. Gone are the feelings of isolation and insignificance. Instead Zach now feels purpose, affirmation and ultimately acceptance.
“What?” Leona asks noticing the wistful Zach is gazing at her. Not that she is complaining.
Zach is seconds away from a response which is surely dripping with corny sentiment when his attention is grabbed the buzzing of his phone. A cursory look reveals the caller to be the CWF Commissioner, Ataxia (A revelation Zach still struggles to comprehend).
“Hey Tax, what’s up?”
“Zachie Boy, I just had a stroke of genius! It made a bit of a mess in my office, but it’s an epiphany I know your just gonna love!”
It’s always impossible to know when dealing with Ataxia which parts he is being serious about. Operating on the knowledge that Ataxia wouldn’t knowingly try to make Zach’s life difficult the Game-Changer bites.
“Alright. Colour me interested. What’s your great idea?”
Meeting Leona’s eyes, Zach gives her an exaggerated eye roll.
“You in Detroit by chance?”
“Actually I am…May not be competing, but you can bet I’ll always be near the action.”
“Perfect. Kid after my own heart. I’m thinking, you should get into the PPV ring and challenge Freddie Styles for his Impact Title. You savvy?” Zach is stunned into silence. “Zach. You there? Damnit. I really need to get a better provider. Zach?!”
“Ah. Yeah. Sorry. Did I hear that correctly? You said Impact Championship?”
“Did I stutter?”
“No for real, it’s hard to tell when you’ve lived behind a mask for so long.”
“No you didn’t stutter. It’s just…Am I going to be known as the Token Bonus Round Fighter or something?”
“Kid, you want it or not?”
“Sorry. Of course I do! But-“
“It’s settled then! See you at Hellbound kid. I know you’ll do great.”
It’s no use. Ataxia has already cut the call, leaving Zach to stop in his tracks, staring at his phone in nigh disbelief, struggling to fully understand the opportunity now given to him and the implications therein.
“Zach…Are you ok?” Leona notices a faraway look cross Zach’s face as he suddenly gets very pensive. A mask hiding the unseen uncertainty now clouding Zach’s thoughts, feelings and emotions. “Everything ok?”
“This is huge…this is massive…this is-“
“Babe, skip to the important parts of the dialogue.”
A hand on the shoulder pulls Zach back to the present, meeting Leona’s eyes.
“That was Tax. He ah…He wants me to be a Mystery Opponent against Freddie Styles for the Impact Champion.”
“Seriously? He’s not having one of his ‘moments?”
“I THINK he was legit.”
“OH MY GOD!”
Forgetting herself, Leona’s profound exclamation of exultation draws many wary and disgruntled glances from the passers-by. They are still in a public place after all.
“That’s amazing Zach!”
Paradoxically the self-proclaimed Game-Changer doesn’t seem to be sharing in her excitement. It’s not the same xcitable and frenetic Zach that everyone knows and loves. This is a more serious and grounded young man she sees before her.
“Normally it would be pretty damn epic.”
“But, is this the right thing to do?”
“What do you mean?”
Zach takes a deep breath as he tries to sort out his many thoughts and put them to words.
“I mean. I promised to help out my Superfriends in the Forsaken. You know, stand up against the evil megalomania and tyranny of those like Loki Synn. This opportunity for the Impact title is one of the first big steps towards what I’ve always dreamed of. But isn’t it a little selfish? You know, to pursue personal glory, to vie for the High Score, when there are those out there, an entire fed, who still need my help?”
“Your altruism is definitely a positive thing, but there is never anything wrong with looking out for ones’ self occasionally. This is what you wanted growing up, so no one would blame you…Consider it this way Zach. Wouldn’t your message be clearer, more profound, if it’s the newly crowned CWF Impact Champion standing up against the rising tide of villainy? Those like the Glass Ceiling, or Loki, may stop and think twice when Zach van Owen stands against them with the Impact Title belt around his waist. And, it’s not like the Forsaken are helpless without you.”
“I guess I am kinda like their Hawkeye.”
“I would’ve said more like the Sixth Power Ranger…or at the very least Ant-Man.”
“...I’m ok with that.”
At that moment, realisation fully dawns on Zach. He grows weak at the knees, needing a moment to sit down and recollect his wits. This draws even more looks. With a gentle hand beneath the chin, Lena once again secures Zach’s attention.
“You can’t be expected to tackle every big problem yourself and put your own life on hold. You’re not Superman.”
“Hey Leona…” Zach pauses. Measuring the gravity of what he is about to ask her. “Would you like to come with me to the ring? I want you to be the first person to see me unlock that Achievement when I finally win the Impact Championship.”
Nothing could make Leona happier.
She throws her arms around his neck, elated that Zach is willing to share this important facet of his life with her.
“I’ve had opportunities in the past to seize that Championship, but I’ve always fallen that little bit short. This time though…this time things are different. For starters it’s a 1v1 bout, not the previous Free-For-Alls that would make Super Smash Brothers proud. More importantly, this time I am different. I’ve come back to the CWF with a clear purpose, a clear picture of who I am, who I want to be and what I want to achieve. I know it won’t be an easy match, Freddie Styles ain’t no slouch. For everyone one of my Hadoukens, he’ll probably have a Spear, or an Ice Burst. If I am to win, then I’m going to have to achieve Ultra Instinct and dig down into my repertoire.”
“Did you just…Was that Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat AND Dragonball mixed together? Jesus Zach! You must mean business.”
“I know you get where I’m coming from. But Freddie. I bet he doesn’t. And I bet he’s not alone. All these niche game or pop culture references don’t for a second mean I’m not taking this, or myself, seriously. Quite the opposite. I’ve never been more serious in my life! The harsh reality is, this world of professional wrestling is nothing like the one I dreamt of as a kid, when my father was still Player One. It’s a lot less glamorous and prestigious then I thought. And I use these references to make sense of the world around me. To find comfort in it. They are as much a part of me, as Flugelhorns are a part of Silas Artoria…Freddie Styles has talent to spare, with significant achievements to his name. He’ll be a tough opponent. I say those things in respect to the competitor he once was. For some reason, he and his buddy Duce have forsaken the CWF Universe as members of the Glass Ceiling. Sad to say, since I’m walking into Freddie’s Sandlot, I can’t trust that the GC won’t try and turn this into a Multi-Player Match.
“Don’t you worry about that. Any of them even LOOK at you funny. I’ll kick their teeth in and mess up their faces so bad that no even their own mothers will want to love them. There is definitely a shadow creeping over the company, but you aren’t facing it alone. There are friends willing to stand with you. Fight alongside you. Least of all, of course, is me Zach. I’m not just here to stand back and watch.”
“Oh, I know that. And because of you I can walk into Little Caesars Arena for Hellbound and come at Freddie Styles with Courage, Power and Wisdom…well ok, the third probably isn’t my strongest point. But you know what I mean! I’ve collected all the Golden Rings and I’m gonna be button mashing like crazy. And who knows, maybe I can make Freddie realise how far off the path he has fallen. Or at the very least will weaken the Glass Ceiling’s stranglehold on the company. Really when I look at it like that, how could I not take this opportunity?! It’s win-win! The rest of the CWF Universe can sit back and relax as I break all the limits and finally Digivolve to Zach van Owen, Impact Champion!”
“And that’s all folks! Game Over!”
“Awww. My catch-phrase sounds better when you say it. It sounds hot.”
Leona gives Zach a wink, then beckons him to follow. They still have their evening ahead of them and plenty of time before Hellbound, best not let that time go to waste.
There will be plenty of time of think about the title match the night of the pay-per-view.
Such is the methodology of Zach van Owen, the aspiring Impact Champion.