Zach van Owen's mind has accessed the Speed Force and is running at preternatural speeds, a blur of thoughts, feelings, emotions and memories. Even the simple task of walking down the street s of Oakland, California, seems like running the gauntlet. With each step Zach is certain he can hear their whispers, feel their judgmental eyes on him.
They don't believe in him.
They don't think he deserves to be where he is.
He has failed.
His body still aches from his grueling against Dan Ryan for the Modern Warfare semi-finals, a match Zach ultimately lost by tapping out. Not only not living up to his vow to win the tournament and face the Shadow in the name of saving the CWF, but there is something definitively embarrassing about a tap-out loss. To make matters worse Xander Haze decided to no longer be a mere spectre to haunt Zach, but physically attacked Zach after that same match, adding insult to injury while still wearing the stolen Impact championship. The only silver lining about all of this is that the Modern Warfare pay-per-view is coming up, a chance for Zach to gain retribution against Xander, reclaim the title belt the Game-Changer rightfully earned and hopefully some shred of dignity along with it.
Oh how the mighty hero has fallen.
A strange sinister laugh draws Zach away from his musing. He looks across the street to see The Gimp, Xander Haze, taunting the Game-Changer with the stolen Impact Title. Without pausing Zach surges forward, hoping to close the distance between himself and this antagonist. The blaring of a car horn seizes Zach’s attention. He is forced to leap backwards in order to avoid getting hit. It draws in a small crowd of stunned on-lookers. Recovered from the near miss Zach looks once again towards Xander, only to find him no longer there…Zach’s not even sure if the Gimp was ever really there in the first place, or if it was the stress and anxiety running through Zach’s mind and playing games with his senses. Zach dusts himself off and waves off the approach of some concerned citizens. He knows how it looks, he had practically jumped in front of the oncoming car and he didn’t need their judgement further weighing on him. With his head bowed, Zach somberly walks back to the Marriott Hotel.
Waiting to head off the Game-Changer in the hotel lobby is the familiar faces of the Forsaken; Dorian Hawkhurst, his daughter, Chloe, Ataxia and the Shadow. Acknowledging his arrival Leona stands from her seat looking tired and exhausted. Zach knows it’s his fault she looks so fraught, but doesn’t know what to do to fix the problem and it just makes him all the more frustrated. So too does the looks of concern the Game-Changer sees on the face of his friends and stable-mates (though with Ataxia it’s anybody’s guess).
A look he is growing exceptionally tired of.
“Hey Zack. We thought we’d all go out for a drink, a bite and just chill out.” Leona explains, hope radiating off her voice.
“Is this an intervention or something?” Zach barks in reply.
“No Zach…” Leona is shocked and saddened by his aggressive reponse.
“Be at ease young Zach, we are here simply because we are concerned for you, and wish to show our support.” The Shadow interject, playing peacekeeper. Zach rounds on him with a stern gaze.
“I’d be more…concerned about that new title belt of yours. What kind of deal did you make with Loki, or Cheshire, or whatever it is these days.”
“Not even the most proficient of therapists can understand what goes through the mind of that disturbed individual. I know not why they decided to forgo their reign as World Champion but can assure you I had no part in it.”
Zach eyes Shadow suspiciously, clearly not convinced, but leaves the matter to rest, collapsing into a chair with a profound sigh of resignation.
“Kid we’re here as your friends.” Dorian adds.
Zach shakes his head.
“That’s all well and good but the Power of Friendship ain’t gonna fix this problem. It’s not like we can just walk into Modern Warfare and give ‘em the ole Carebear Stare.”
“We could try…”
Ataxia draws a look, with many a raised eyebrow.
“We’re gone beyond that. Everything’s just so messed up.”
“Cause of Dan Ryan and the tournament?” Leona asks.
“Pfft. The only reason why Ryan won last week is because of everything else that’s going on. I’m so unfocused and distracted that I wasn’t fighting at my AAA best. I had run out of Mana. But just throw me a couple of Senzu Beans and let me at him again. I’ll show that jerk exactly the kind of game I play.”
“You got bigger fish to fry kid. The tournament ain’t your concern anymore and the fate of the CWF can await until you get all your lives back. Right now we gotta sort you out.”
Out of all of the Forsaken (minus Leona) Dorian seems to understand Zach’s quirks and the young Impact Champion still kept their conversation from the previous week close to heart. The fact is, the Demon of Sobriety is right, the silver lining around the unfortunate semi-final loss is that Zach can now focus on the true villains of the moment. John Kreese and Xander Haze.
They are overdue on their payback.
“You know Kreese and Xander are becoming as annoying as a cave full of frigging Zubats! And I guess 2019 is the year of remakes? Xander thinks he can just pop out of nowhere, supposedly all new and improved with all the patches downloaded, pull agro and try to restart this game? Does he even realise it’s the same tired, old gameplay, just with a new skin...a skin he stole from me mind you.”
“I know a guy who could skin Kreese and Xander if you wanted…” Again the no sequitur from the paradoxical Ataxia gives everyone pause. Anyone else would probably call the police, but the Forsaken all share the burden of familiarity.
“Ah…I think I’ll settle for beating him in our TLC match…but thanks…I think. And I don’t reckon Xander recalls who he’s dealing with. I’ve spent my whole life IV training, pushing myself beyond what many would consider normal limits. Cause that’s the kind of guy I am. I force others to do better. To BE better. And if they aren’t then there is no hope in hell they can keep up with me. Just like Xander. I proved it once before and I’ll do it once again. There’s no checkpoints or continues from this point. And when this game is over, Xander will take his rightful place amongst the Putty Patrol. Without MY Impact Title! I have failed enough as it is, and won’t do so again.”
“We all know this is something you feel like you have to do. But your pushing yourself too hard. You’re still so young.” Says the Shadow.
“I may be young, but take a good hard look. I’m no longer a child, and yet everyone seems to think they can dump on me, target me and otherwise try to force me underfoot. I’m just trying to be the hero that this federation needs…” Zach pauses to meet Leona’s gaze. “But I’m clearly no good to anyone in this state.”
A raised hand from the Game-Changer puts an end to any and all attempts at reassurance.
“I’ve been thinking about what everyone’s been saying. Maybe I shouldn’t have been in the tournament to begin with. By doing so I let the monsters run rampant and let them get to me. And because of it I’m currently all out of Elixirs. So after Modern Warfare, win OR lose, I’m stepping back for a bit. You are all right. I’m being overwhelmed and need to return to the ZachCave.”
“They gonna let you do that if you still hold the title?”
“At this point I don’t really care. Besides…I’ve also failed as a boyfriend, so I’ve got a lot to make up for.”
“Are you sure about this?” Leona takes Zach’s hands.
“I’ve selected my Dialogue Choice and will be prepared for the consequences. The CWF will still be standing when I get back. If not, well I’m pretty good at tetris. But Shadow…don’t you dare lose that title belt just yet. I don’t want to have to come back from my fake retirement to pull your arse out of the fire.”
The tension disappears within the group and they all share a sincere, heartwarming chuckle. Maybe Zach is wrong, maybe the Power of Friendship really can fix the problem. The moment is ruined by the interjection of Dorian.
“So ah. About that night out? We’d probably best be going, Tax here is making a few people nervous and the hotel is gonna call security on us.”
“I just wanted to pat the dog!” Ataxia whines as he is practically dragged out of the hotel lobby.
“That was some dudes tupee!”
Tonight is not a night to be thinking of Modern Warfare and the growing threat that Xander and John pose. Tonight is a night for Zach to try and find his old spark when he used to have fun inside the ring.
A time to put up the torn cape and just be the mild-mannered alter ego.
From a nondescript vehicle with tinted windows, two individuals watch the Forsakens’ journey from the Oakland Marriott into the night life of Oakland city. The driver is of course John Kreese, while his passenger remains veiled by darkness and shadow. However if his face could be seen it would be clear the individual is smiling.
“It’s time John. Make the calls.”
“Let the rabid dog loose. He’s served his purpose.”
“Thank fuck. He’s a pretty messed up guy. I’ll admit he even scared me a little.”
The obscured mastermind decides not to recite a quote about a kettle and a black pot, for now is not the time for petty squabbles and belittlement. Now is the time to close the circle and finally see this plan to fruition.