The picture fades in to a meeting room in at the Oracle Arena in Oakland, a big CWF Modern Warfare backdrop set up behind a row of tables and chairs, with plenty of journalists in the audience, eagerly awaiting one of the many press conferences surrounding the big upcoming PPV. A large Samoan man is situated next to a stand to the side, a name sign showing Tony Valalaika, Head of Publicity Department.
Tony Valalaika: Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for coming in today for our first Modern Warfare press conference. First up will be our current World Heavyweight champion The Shadow, who will be once again defending his title against Cheshire in the semi finals of the Modern Warfare tournament this coming Tuesday. Given how many participants we have this year, we will only have time for some questions, so please wait until I call your name to indicate it is your turn. Alright? OK, so let’s welcome our first guest of honour, The Shadow.
On queue CWF’s TV Media Director Mike Culross is coming in with The Shadow in tow, Myfanwy by his side, but staying to the side as he ascends the steps to the podium and with a nod to the assembled media has a seat.
Tony Valalaika: OK, let’s start, with you first, Mike Burgess, from the “Wrestling Gazette”.
Mike Burgess: Mr. Shadow, you’ve been on a roll so far during the last few weeks, do you think you will be able to make a clean sweep of the whole tournament?
The Shadow chuckles at the question.
The Shadow: Yes, I’ve had a good few weeks, but what do you really expect me to say? That I don’t think I could? But seriously, if I did not firmly believe that I am able to win the next two matches, I should probably not sit here this afternoon, but be on the lookout for a different job.
The journalist is turning red as several of his colleagues are laughing at the remark.
Mike: That is not quite how I meant it…
Tony Valalaika: I know, but you guys should not forget who you are dealing with here, he’s a swordsman of the spoken word. Anyways, Gino Cavaliere over here, from…”L’Almanacco della Lotta”?
Gino Cavaliere: Si, the “Almanac of Wrestling”. Modern Warfare is a tournament with a big tradition, what does it feel like to be part of it?
The Shadow: Well, this is my second edition, the first one did not quite go all that well, but the talent is amazing. I mean, CWF in itself already has a lot of very strong wrestlers, but especially the people from Carnage really have impressed me, especially compared to some of the other entrants we had both this and last year
Gino: Dan Ryan is the only non-CWF wrestler left in the tournament, how do you see his chances?
The Shadow: I am not sure, if he is non-CWF or signed with us by now, but if you look at the participants overall and the fact that he is in the semi finals, any of us four has a definitive chance to win this tournament. He eliminated Kendo, The Crimson Ghost!, Austin Bishop, Zach van Owen to get here, so if anybody still underestimates him is a fool at best.
Agreeing murmurs run through the audience.
Tony Valalaika: Uh, not sure I have your credentials here, Sir?
Reporter: Steve McCann from Fox News.
Tony Valalaika: Oh alright then, so next up Ryan Aldinger from "Strong Style News" over there.
Ryan Aldinger: You could be facing your stable mate Ataxia in the finals, what will be your strategy for that? I mean, you might not go to the fullest extent there.
The Shadow: Well, before that I am worrying about Cheshire and he still has to get past Dan Ryan as well, so this is obviously speculative. But while we might not resort to anything outside of the rules, I don't think that either of us would go easy on each other. It would be for the CWF World Heavyweight title, so that is not just some belt from a backyard federation. No, you can be sure that we will push each other to the limit.
Ryan: Speaking of Cheshire, how do you prepare for someone that has what feels like a completely different personality show up every other week?
The Shadow: That actually is a good question. She surely is a difficult person to prepare for, but it is like meeting any new competitor, you watch and stay alert, try to learn from what you see and in general just be prepared for anything. Especially with her you have to be ready for everything and anything.
Tony Valalaika: The lady at the very back there, you are from…
Woman: That does not matter here. Mr. Shadow, what do you know about the “Book of Truth”?
Suddenly she has the undivided attention by The Shadow, while Tony is looking at her with a furrowed brow.
The Shadow: I beg your pardon? The “Book of Truth”?
Woman: Yes. I guess I hit a chord there?
The Shadow’s eyes narrow.
The Shadow: Who are you?
Woman: That does not concern you. But there are other things that you should be concerned about. Very concerned.
Saying that she turns and quickly leaves the room. The Shadow leaps over the table in front of him, trying to push through the throng of reporters, but by the time he gets to the door, the mysterious woman is gone.
Cut to a corridor of the Oracle Arena. The Shadow and Myfanwy are walking together just after the press conference.
Myfanwy: That lady was odd.
The Shadow: Yes, she was not a journalist.
Myfanwy: What was she then?
The Shadow: Someone trying to poke the hornet's nest.
At this moment a cell phone goes off. Myfanwy pulls it out of her pocket.
Myfanwy: It's Christian, why is he calling me?
The Shadow: Answer and you shall find out.
She barely manages to get a word out as Christian seems to be quick to the point. After barely a minute she hangs up and starts walking.
The Shadow: Uh, where are we going?
Myfanwy: Tacoma. Sanford is awake.
Without waiting for a reaction or word she turns off a side corridor, leaving The Shadow to rush after her.
The Tacoma General Hospital the same day. The elevator door opens and The Shadow and Myfanwy step out. Christian Fagermo is waiting for them, leaning against the wall next to the doors.
The Shadow: How is he doing?
Christian Fagermo: Well, Viktor has asked to be moved outside somewhere, because he won't shut up, so I'd say he is doing pretty good.
They all share a laugh.
The Shadow: I guess that's a good sign.
They all move towards a side corridor.
Christian: Yes, he has asked for steak and a bourbon, too.
The Shadow (laughing): He is fine then.
They reach one of the many non-descript doors, but the towering blond man in front of it unmistakably marks it as the right one.
The Shadow: Viktor, how are you?
Viktor Cederbergh: Hmph.
The Shadow: Good talk.
He gives the Swede a pat on the shoulder and enters the room, where Sanford Thibodaux is chatting away with two young nurses, who seem to be enthralled by his stories. As soon as he sees The Shadow, Myfanwy and Christian enter, though, he immediately falls silent, while Myfanwy ushers the nurses out of the room.
Sanford: Boss, good to see you!
The Shadow: Same here, we were worried. How are you feeling?
Sanford: Well, other than the lack of bourbon in this establishment, good, when can I get out of here?
The Shadow looks over at Christian.
Christian: Tomorrow, if you behave well.
The dark-skinned Louisianan scowls at the Norwegian.
The Shadow: OK, kids, enough with the bantering, you’ll have plenty of time later on. What did you find out that made them almost beat you to death?
Sanford: Have you heard of “The Book of Truth”?
The Shadow and Myfanwy look at each other with an alarmed look as the picture fades to black.
The picture fades in to...total darkness. The sound of drums begins to sound, seemingly coming from different directions. Suddenly The Shadow’s voice comes in as a whisper from somewhere close by.
The Shadow: The time for peace is over. War has descended upon us and the final battle is drawing nigh…
Suddenly in the distance a flame springs to life, which rapidly comes closer, like a flaming arrow, landing right in front of the camera, igniting a brazier. The flickering light emanating from it shows a lone figure in a hooded robe, standing behind the brazier, head cast down, arms outstretched, the firelight the only source of light distinguishing it from the utter blackness around. Slowly the figure raises its head, while the camera zooms in, showing the face of The Shadow, partially obscured by dark war paint within the depths of the hood.
The Shadow: So Cheshire, we finally meet inside a ring. Irony? Fate? An Omen? I'll let you be the judge. Somebody asked me how to prepare for someone who is constantly changing like a chameleon. I have known your-- ‘vessel’ as someone might say --for a year now, even though it has been going through a whole set of identity crises since then, starting as Mia, then briefly touching upon Amelia before Loki Synn bulldozed in and now has been replaced by the even more mysterious Cheshire.
What or who you are, I sometimes wonder, if you truly know, so to come back to the question from the press conference, how would I prepare for someone so unpredictable, so unorthodox? To be honest, I can't. Which makes you so dangerous to anyone. But it must be a crowded space in there.
He points at his head.
The Shadow: And after this latest metamorphosis I am not quite sure what to think of you either. Now one can't help but wonder, if this unpredictability might not end up being a potential detriment for you as well, because you never know who else might pop up in there... But obviously I cannot and will not count on any, let's call it internal interruptions. One thing I have been wondering about has been what your ultimate goal is. When you came to visit me at Ravenhearst, you were kind of cryptic and I hope you don't hold it against me, if I take everything you say with a grain of salt, since my experiences with you in your previous incarnation have been somewhat touchy.
You say that you are a neutral party and that you are here to atone for Mia’s sins. You say that Loki is gone for good, but that Mia still has to be protected. But who is to say that she is truly gone and not just dormant? Or that Cheshire is not just a new mask on the same monster? The faith of many has been shaken with all the happenings after Milenko’s masterful coup and that shattered trust is hard to rebuild. And it also opens the question of where did you actually come from? Are you a protective barrier that Mia built up or just another construct intruding from parts unknown?
A second cloaked figure appears beside The Shadow, wisps of red hair protruding from the deep hood. She is holding a torch that she lights in the brazier before stepping behind The Shadow, holding the torch aloft above them.
The Shadow: No matter what you have said in the past, you basically handing me the title at Frozen Over still has this stain on it, this last bit of doubt, if I would even be standing here with it, if it was not for you. Yes, you claimed that it was Mia’s idea, but again, excuse me, if my faith in your words is not standing on the firmest of footings. While I firmly believe that by facing Tobias, Max and Jimmy and still standing here with the title I have proved that I am not just a fluke, at Modern Warfare I will be able to shut up all the naysayers, I will finally be able to prove once and for all that I am not just a king crowned by a jester...
But to come back to my question, what is your goal, what is your endgame? Is it to ascend to the top as yourself and bask in the glory of having done so? Is it to be the one that vanquished Loki Synn? Is it to prime Mia to come back to her former self? Obviously time will tell, hopefully, but for now my goal is to get past you and maybe, maybe get all of us one step to closer to embracing Mia back into the family… And this is where some might see us, you, me and also Ataxia, as being so emotionally involved in the whole back story that we might forget what we are here for. I do not like to accuse you of any ulterior motives such as trying to exploit our emotional attachments to Mia and the turmoil everything after the heinous attack by the Smokin’ Aces has thrown us into, but only a fool would cast away all care and discount even the slightest possibility.
Two more figures comes into view, also carrying torches that they light up in the brazier. They step to the side and out of the picture.
The Shadow: Whichever incarnation you stepped into the ring as, you have always known how to break through whatever barrier your opponents may have erected against you and get into their heads. Either to confuse them, to throw them off or touch upon anything that could cause any kind of disruption. Whereas Mia acted out of her innate desire for structure and peace, for a sense of belonging, Loki pushed it to the cruellest extremes one could imagine. But now you, where do you really fit in, Cheshire? Which emotion, which sentiment will be the one guiding your hand in our fight? Redemption? Revenge? Or Randomness?
At this the camera zooms in on The Shadow’s face, the flickering flames reflecting off his eyes while the torch held by Myfanwy silhouettes him against the blackness behind.
The Shadow: There is only one way to find out, but whatever your goal is, prepare for the hammer of doom to break through the reflection and shatter it into a thousand pieces when we clash in Oakland. Whatever your hopes and dreams for Modern Warfare are, however well laid your plans for your meeting with me may be, an impenetrable darkness will creep into all of them and strip them away from the essence of your soul until there is nothing left but the void, deeper than the darkest night…
As the picture zooms out again, two more cloaked and hooded figures perform the same ritual of lighting the torches and walking out of the picture.
The Shadow: But you are not the only one that I have to pay attention to in Oakland, because there also are two other gentlemen that have set their sights on the prize: Dan Ryan and Ataxia...
Dan, in some way you remind me of MJ Flair. Oh I know that the two of you are pretty much polar opposites, but look at last year and this year. She came out of nowhere and went almost all the way, just stopped by the ulterior actions of two power hungry individuals that are nothing more but history now. You, too, appeared without much of a back story, out of nowhere and surprised everybody, but let’s be honest, if someone manages to eliminate Kendo, The Crimson Ghost!, Austin Bishop and Zach van Owen, you are no longer a surprise or an underdog anymore.
You seem to like to bring up your past, who you fought, how you beat them and all, but while you come heavily decorated from other federations, is that something that is going to be an advantage? Well, it might be, since you obviously have been in situations like these before, but clinging to your past glories might also make you feel mightier than you really are. Does the past win you matches? No. It might impress your opponents and make them feel you are the biggest cheese to ever roll around earth, but while confidence is a good thing, it can also go to your head and make you cocky. And that has been the downfall of mightier men than you.
A sixth and seventh figure come into view, putting their torches into the brazier and carrying them out of the shot brightly afire.
The Shadow: Now if you look at your opponent, to quote the old trope of “Expect the Unexpected” has never rung truer, I can guarantee that you have never met someone like Ataxia before. But this promises to be a highly interesting encounter, two masters of mind games, trying to outsmart each other. Now as much faith as I have in the abilities of the Messiah Pariah, I obviously cannot let my guard down and just discard you as someone that will fall by the wayside courtesy of him just because I know him and I do not know you past the little you let on since you came into Modern Warfare.
So you have the experience, compared to the rest of us you definitely also have a height and weight advantage. Plus your technical background could be a definitive asset when it comes to countering either of our moves. So on paper you look like a very formidable force that could be viewed as the favourite just based on that, but I think that at least this tournament has proved that sometimes these seemingly clear-cut things can be deceiving.
Almost as if on cue, as The Shadow halts for a moment, an eighth robed figure lights up his torch.
The Shadow: People like to dissect the participants in tournaments, in matches, talk about advantages and disadvantages, trying to discern who to put their money on or just simply be the one among your friends to be right. You are the only one that has no Forsaken connections, for better or worse, so while we know each other fairly well, you are the big unknown. Sure, we’ve been able to follow your progress for the last three weeks, but will it be enough for us to really know you? To have figured out your true strengths, your biggest weaknesses? Probably not. On the other hand, how well do you know us? Any of us really?
Well, you surely did not have any problems adjusting to the technical prowess of Kendo, the all-over-the-place The Crimson Ghost!, the size and strength of Austin Bishop and finally the speed and aerial abilities of Zach van Owen. However should you be able to also overcome Ataxia, will you be ready for what will await you in the finals? One thing that you might try to push to the fore is the fact that you are the only one with an emotional detachment to the other participants. To you we all are just wrestlers that you have to beat to get to your goal, you don’t have any of the connections that draw this to a far more personal level than just a wrestling tournament, no matter how grand it is. The old saying goes that he who does not know fear will not be ready for his opponent for he will not have his guard up where it should be. I will not claim not to know fear and I surely will not claim that I will walk right over you, but I have been thrown so many curveballs that it will be hard to faze me.
He looks up towards the heavens, closing his eyes.
The Shadow: Most people will never go through what I have gone through and trust me, I would not wish it upon my worst enemies. But if anything, it has shown me that no matter what I have to face, I am able to get through it, be it by sheer willpower, inner strength or whatever you would want to call it. If someone faced death and lived to tell the tale, a mere mortal, no matter how imposing and confident he may be, will not be able to impress or intimidate me as much as one would think anymore. If someone lost almost everything, the prospect of losing a match or a title does not produce the same kind of nervousness anymore.
A ninth figure performs the torch-lighting ritual and exits the screen.
The Shadow: And Ataxia, what can I really say? The most twisted force CWF has ever seen is once and for all proving that it is far more than just a “bagged freak”, more than just the comic relief and Rolash’s bane. No, you are a force to be reckoned with and it is obvious that you are going all out this time around. No more just saving your federation, but you want the gold, I can see it, I can feel it, something is different, vastly different this time around.
Some might find it ironic or interesting that three of the four finalist are, or were, part of The Forsaken. I will admit that the Forsaken have taken quite the hit in the last few weeks and months, with all the turmoil surrounding Loki and Milenko and now we are facing each other in the fiercest tournament CWF has to offer and quite possibly has ever seen. Do I consider you a frand? Yes, I do, I might be one of the few to catch a glimpse of what really goes on behind that burlap mask, the agony, the brilliance, even though I will never even start to claim that I really understand you. I don’t think anybody can, there are times I am not even sure you can.
Druid number ten enters and exits like the others before him.
The Shadow: Would I rather see you or Dan in the finals? I am somewhat torn about that, because while I know you better than Dan, you are by far and wide less predictable than him. I know what you are capable of. You never know what kind of cockamamie idea could come to your mind at any given time, turning everything around in the blink of an eye. Do you see a pattern here? Cheshire and you, it seems as if CWF is the place for the unpredictable, for the unexpected to soar to great heights. Sometimes it makes me wonder, if people might not see me as just a predictable old bore, but then again, I have overcome everybody who stood in my way in this tournament and I have overcome people such as Elisha, who obviously operated on a completely different level of depravity, but that is besides the point right now.
I will readily admit that out of anybody out there, I would rather lose to you than any of them, but this does not mean that I have the wrestling title equivalent of a deathwish. I will not just lay down for you and let you grab the title, no. I love you like the brother I never had, but I know that you would have no qualms to lay me out in order to finally manage to grasp that coveted title. In the past you had always put the federation first, your federation, defending it with your life, but this time is different, isn’t it? Now that it has been taken from the clutches of Milenko you can focus on finally ascending the throne many thought you deserved for so long…
An eleventh Druid enters the scene.
The Shadow: And if you look back at the last few weeks, the lightheartedness has taken a step back, replaced by a mean streak that you usually only had shown when a loved one was in peril. Just look at your match against Jack Michaels, where you wielded a blade that could have sliced obsidian with the ease of a hot sword cutting through snow. But I will be ready and you better be prepared to dive into a darkness that is deeper than even the blackest recesses of your mind and the darkest corners of your heart, because this is where you will have to travel to for the true place of our battle. Transcending the plane of mere physicality, the true war will be waged on a completely different level.
As the twelfth and last druid lights up his torch and moves into his place, the picture zooms out more and shows the twelve torches that had been lit up in a half-moon pattern around The Shadow. We see The Shadow pick up a torch of his own and lighting it. Myfanwy moves to his side and their torches touch high between them as the other torches also are lifted up. In unison they descend in slow motion, touching upon the ground, where they each set alight some flammable substance, which sends the flames racing across the ground towards the centre, eleven what look like lightning rods converging at the brazier.
The Shadow: Cheshire, Dan, Ataxia, forsake your ideas of being the sole star in the CWF universe for I will wield lightning to split the sun…
With the fire burning brightly, the picture slowly fades to black.