Inside the roller rink, the myriad of colourful lights glow faintly, dancing and flickering in their electric brilliance, while the music sets the mood with an upbeat rhythm. Altogether it creates a family friendly atmosphere of joviality and sheer, unadulterated fun. The Lioness of Philadelphia, one Leona Gainsborough fought doggedly to convince the Game-Changer of CWF, Zach van Owen, to put the woes of the CWF and his career behind for at least a night. Eventually she succeeded on her persuasion roll and brings her conflicted boyfriend to the rink for an evening together.
It seems to be working. The Zach skating beside her, hand-in-hand, with his wide eyes and even wider smile, is not the Zach she has seen as of late, beleaguered by concerns for the livelihood of the wrestling promotion and his own perceived failures. No, this is the Zach she always remembers. Fun, care-free, and innocent. Laughing the couple come together in the centre of the rink, holding each other tightly, yet tender, and begin to spin in place. Around and around, building speed as the lights surrounding them become little more than bright blurs. The other party-goers also fall out of focus, their visages shifting amongst the panorama. Strangely all the colours seem to undulate into green and black. Perturbed Zach tries to take better stock of those around him. He is shocked to see the faces of the strangers now all wearing the familiar facemask of Impakt, his original alter-ego when he first joined the CWF. The Impakts circle around the couple and draw in closer...and closer...until they are all but upon the two.
Zach van Owen awakens with a start, his body dampened by perspiration. It takes him a moment to realise he isn't on a date with Leona in a roller rink, that is in fact merely a dream. In reality he is in bed next to his partner in the [hotel]. Somehow Leona manages to remain asleep. Looking at her, Zach's guilt grows. If not for him she wouldn't be involved in his mess. Yet another of his mistakes. Slowly, as not to awaken Leona and add on to her worries, Zach climbs out of the bed, throws some clothes on then heads out to the bottom floor bar and restaurant, finds himself a quiet corner table and order his usual Health Potion (also known as a simple glass of water). One would think, for all extents and purposes, things are going pretty well. Zach has advanced into the semi-final round of the Modern Warfare tournament and he still remains the Impact Champion, but the nagging question on his mind is...at what cost? What is he losing to continue his fraught crusade to save the CWF Universe and what is he prepared to do? The list for both seems to be growing with each passing day.
"Your gonna need something a little stronger to get you through THOSE thoughts clouding your mind..." The Demon of Sobriety, friend and fellow stablemate within the Forsaken, Dorian Hawkhurst joins Zach at the table.
"Dorian? It's a bit contrived that'd you'd be awake at the same time, AND in the same hotel as me...talk about a linear plot..."
Dorian shrugs with a bemused smile.
"I could always leave you know."
"No, no. Sorry, with everything going on at the moment I'm always expecting some twist or turn that would put Hideo Kojima to shame. What's got you up at this hour anyway?"
There is a pause as Dorian orders his own drink, a strong mug of coffee.
"Shit ain't right."
A simple statement, but one that has Zach feeling both selfish and sheepish. He's been so preoccupied he's neglected his friends and allies within the Forsaken and hadn't considered they might also be dealing with their own shit.
"Have you spoken to Shadow lately? That whole mess with Cheshire and the World title got me rethinking things." Dorian elaborates.
"I was hoping I'd face him in the final of the tournament. Figured I'd learn the truth in the ring."
The Demon of Sobriety nods in agreement.
"That ain't all. Things're changing, and I don't reckon its for the better. After my loss to Tax I can't help but feel more and more helpless. I know you see kit, but you at least got something going. Semi-finals and all."
"Yeah..." Clearly Zach isn't convinced, "I'm not sure if I'm even doing the right thing. I feel like I'm just button bashing out there and getting damn lucky each time. Sure I beat Clyde Walker and Eli Goode, but it doesn't feel like the Main Quest. Either I'm not doing enough, or I'm doing the wrong thing. Let's be real here, what you reckon are my chances against Dan Ryan? As far as experience and achievements are concerned, Dan's about unlocked them all. He's wrestled all over the world, run his own company...He's built like the consummate tank, able to take the hits without even flinching. I pale in comparison to a player of that calibre. I'm not sure my skills as a DPS are gonna cut it this time. How could a kid like me even possibly stand against Dan Ryan. I'm Sonic without any rings, Popeye without any spinach, and I'm afraid Dorian. And vulnerable."
There is clear pain and regret on the face of the Game-Changer and Dorian's paternal instincts kick in. The Demon wishes he could embrace this lost child and reassure him that everything would be alright in the end. However, that is far from the truth. This is something that Zach needs to overcome.
"It never used to be like this. It used to be all fun and games. But now it's round, after round, after round of a different fight each time. And no even knows, or cares, of the constant threats to the CWF."
"You're right about one thing. It's only ever going to get harder, but only cause you're becoming more powerful, stronger with each level you surpass. So don't count yourself out against Dan just yet. He's accomplished, but not perfect. I can guarantee he You see things differently than the rest of us, you're looking at the bigger picture through a series of Quick Time Events. You said it yourself, this is more than just a tournament."
"But I can't even keep the Impact title belt safe, how can I dream of protecting the entire CWF."
"This Injustice League of Kreese and Xander are a right bunch of pricks. That's for sure. But their playing a waiting game. They want you to come to them. So make them wait. Finish what you started with this tournament, and then when the time is right...Boom! The pricks are gone. You dealt with them once, you'll make them pay again."
Having finished his mug of coffee, Dorian stands up and puts a reassuring hand on Zach's shoulder. The Game-Changer, having long since finished his water, has been toying with an empty glass the whole time.
"Well we ain't gonna solve these problems sitting on our arses in the early hours of the morning. The world is far from perfect, there are no black and whites, but we have to keep pushing those buttons...keep fighting the good fight. That's what separates the heroes from the average Joes. Don't write yourself off against Dan Ryan just yet yeah kiddo? You've come along way since you debuted, leveled up alot and I'd wager you're gonna give that veteran a real run for his money. Make him work every second for that victory."
Zach tries to force himself to cheer up.
"He does prefer a slower, more grounded play style. I guess I could overwhelm him like I have those of a similar ken with my speed and unpredictability. Hit him with seven different kinds of smoke."
"That's the spirit."
"This tournament is my Rainbow Road, and any misstep is gonna cost me dearly. But I have to remain true to the course, to my promise. Dan may very well have me trounced in every aspect, but that was then, when he was playing on the Atari. Here in the CWF we're PS4! This federation is under my protection. I have the drive to win and I'll not falter. Not now, not when I am so close!"
"Just promise me one thing. You return to bed and hold that girl of yours tight. Embrace the good things that you have in your life. Don't let the evil consume you, else you'll find some things far worse than addictions to drugs or alcohol. Regardless of the outcome of the tournament and your beef with Xander, you take some time. Take a step back. It's always good to aim high and have goals. But you gotta figure out if the sacrifices are worth it. And if by chance you decide it is, then you know where to find me. You, me, Leona. We're a different breed and we Philadelphians had best stick together."
With one final gentle pat on the back Dorian takes his leave and the young Impact Champion watches him disappear from view. After taking some time to consider Dorian's words, and his own options, Zach eventually excuses himself from the table and returns to his hotel room where a roused and unimpressed Leona awaits, concerned by his absence upon her waking. Without saying anything Zach falls into her arms and blocks everything else out. Then and there he makes a silent promise to do as Dorian asks. If not for himself, then for those he cares most about.
Sometimes even the strongest of heroes needs some time to recover.
Meanwhile across the street from the hotel, looking up in the vague direction of Zach and Leona's room is an individual with what looked to be a gold plated championship belt cradled in their arms. The spy had been present during Dorian and Zach's entire conversation, watching in nefarious glee.
Soon the chance will come for payback, and boy was it going to be sweet.