Birds are chirping, leaves are gently rustling in the breeze coming off the Providence River. The camera moves away from the trees to show a quaint yellow house on a quiet street of Newport, Rhode Island, a scarlet sign saying “Almondy Inn”. It rises up to the second floor, where on a patio The Shadow, Francis Walcott and Sanford Thibodaux are seated around a laptop and several photo printouts.
Francis Walcott: So Stainthorpe has been following Golobayov every day to see, if there is a pattern in his excursions and there are a few quite interesting points here.
Sanford Thibodaux: Kept a close eye on the local brothels?
Francis Walcott (shooting Sanford an angry look): No, I keep those aside for you.
Sanford Thibodaux (mockingly): Oooh! So what’s he got?
Francis Walcott: Well, it looks as if the Doctor is suffering a bit from homesickness, because three times a week he has his chauffeur drive him west, to Crawley, where he frequents the Datcha, a Russian fine dining restaurant.
Sanford Thibodaux: Need a stakeout? I’m game!
The Shadow: I remember when you were “staking out” that bodega in New Orleans. Let’s not talk about any more of those, please!
Sanford Thibodaux (with a fake frown): Fine then. Harrumph.
The Shadow: Francis?
Francis Walcott: Yes. One time for lunch, two times for dinner. Every week. Always alone, with the driver waiting in the limousine in a side street.
The Shadow: No bodyguards?
Francis Walcott: No, which is the one part I don’t get. The limousine is presumably bulletproof, the driver looks like he could eat a bulldog for breakfast, so there must be something at the restaurant that makes them feel safe.
Sanford Thibodaux: Who does it belong to? Anyone with Oreo ties?
Francis Walcott: Hungry again?
The Shadow: No, we’ve all come to the conclusion that they are not worth calling them by their given name.
Francis Walcott: Ah, makes sense. So back to the Datcha. It belongs to a group of investors, all of them of Russian descent, no direct ties to the Institute, but that doesn’t mean much. Waitresses and waiters check out, he hasn’t seen any pattern in other patrons repeating at the same times either, so while we could try the restaurant, I still think our best bet to get to Golobayov is when he is in transit, so to say.
Sanford Thibodaux: A little bomb to blow him off the street?
The Shadow: I’ll give you a sledgehammer next time you are trying to mash your potatoes.
Sanford Thibodaux: Ooh, fun!
Francis Walcott: No bombs, but I’ve been thinking a small EMP generator planted under the car somewhere should do the trick. Take out the electronics and he’s ripe for the picking.
The Shadow: Nice, now we just have to figure out the timing. With things heating up, I am not sure how many of you I can spare…
Francis Walcott: If I can have Dolgopolov, I’ll be fine, Stainthorpe has one or two people that can help.
The Shadow: Excellent. Go get Dolgopolov and I’ll have Detwyler get the tickets in order, we are getting closer. Gentlemen, good work, one step at a time.
As Walcott packs up his laptop and photos, The Shadow turns towards Thibodaux.
The Shadow: Speaking of which, have we heard anything from Berardi on the Moonchild book?
Sanford Thibodaux: No, not since he went to bunk up with Ataxia, might want to check up with our love bird. We don’t want to spook Luciano too much...
The Shadow: Haha, will do.
The picture fades in to a view of the wide mouth of the Providence River. The sun is setting in the west, casting long shadows as the camera glides across the water’s surface. It almost feels like soaring on a bird’s wings on the wind’s currents sweeping across the river. At that moment a black shape comes into view, overtaking the camera and it is a jetblack raven, its shiny feathers glistening in the dying rays of the setting sun. Passing by houses, parks and industrial sectors along the river’s edge, the raven glides towards Providence, the capital of Rhode Island and the location of the 23rd edition of Evolution. The sun is about to fully set when the raven veers to the right, towards a green outcropping jutting out into the river, towards a black cloaked figure, holding out its arm. With unmatched grace the black bird circles around, spreads its wings and gently lands on The Shadow’s outstretched arm.
The Shadow: Elisha, if you think that your little “show of power” in Boston impressed or intimidated us, think again. I was surprised, though, that at your age you still play with dolls… There is a red line that threads through your and Oreo’s history. You might call it strength in numbers, but whenever you went for an attack or interference of any kind, you always made sure you outnumbered the other side.
He gently strokes the raven’s back, which is remarkably calm, but at the same time its eyes never stop moving and scanning the surroundings for any kind of danger or prey alike.
The Shadow: This is not a sign of strength, Moonman, it is a sign of weakness that you HAVE to have the number advantage every single time. If you have to rely on brute force and coercion every time, if you feel the need to scare people into following you, it is not a sign of strength, Childlike Empress. You are trying to mask your shortcomings with brute force and expect everyone to cower down in front of you, groveling in the dirt beneath your feet. Well, you have just found a group of people that will not do this, that do not fear you. You and I have been at this for a long time now as you bolstered your numbers, but I am not alone anymore. And you have no idea who you are dealing with now...
He brings the arm with the raven forward a bit and gestures towards the bird.
The Shadow: Look at this magnificent bird. It is the epitome of freedom, unshackled by conventions and norms, it is not concerned by morality and amorality, it is driven by its instinct. If it was up to you, you would corrupt it, force it into submission to live with its wings clipped and chained to its perch. Just like this raven will soar in freedom, so will we when we are done with you. And that is just the way the cookie crumbles...
He speaks to the bird in hushed tones for a moment before lifting his arm up high and the raven takes flight, at first gliding on a wind current across the Providence River, then catching an updraft and soaring high towards the heavens. After he is not much more than a dark speck among the azure skies, the camera focuses back on The Shadow.
The Shadow: During my time in CWF I have been in some truly odd matches and this one ranges quite up there. Why would the powers that be put me against MJ Flair and Eric Dane? And why on earth pair me up with Revenant? Well, I have met all of my challenges head on in the past and more often than not even the weirder matchups have proven to be victorious, so why would that be different this time?
Let’s have a look at the facts. Revenant. Reanimated warrior from the past, opponent of Mia and myself in the tag team title contender matchup, just having snapped your losing streak against my good old apathetic friend Azrael. This is good, though, because you will be riding on a high, bring momentum into our match here and once we manage to dust off some of that leftover graveyard dirt from behind your ears and probably a few other places, we should be able to overcome the odds and put any potential animosities and disagreements aside and focus on the other two that will be sharing our ring…
He begins to walk along the river’s edge.
The Shadow: Mariella Jade Flair and Eric Dane. Daughter of a legend and a legend in his own right. A match made in, well, I guess New York. Two legacies coalesce to eclipse everything and everybody that already was there. MJ, your career has taken quite the interesting twists and turns. You arrive in CWF for Modern Warfare, an absolute nobody, yes, the daughter of the big Eli Flair, but in a way being all the rebellious teenager, going against what mommy wants you to do. Then you do the unthinkable, you start to win, you defy all odds - the little girl playing in the big boys’ sandbox begins to stomp their sand castles. Jay “Marksman” Mora. Elisha. Yes, you are the original monsterkiller, the first to beat the Moonchild. But I will come back to that in a little while.
Then you beat Jace Valentine to become champion, defend it against anybody who would step up and every single time you would come out victorious. And then gradually things began to change. A man set his sights on you and your title. He made you his be all, end all goal and target. The Marksman was out for revenge. Sure, he did not make it, he fell short despite his confidence and an ego that really deserved its own postal code, but like I said, things changed. You began to lose your cool, you started to show cracks. You would lose your temper more frequently than before.
He reaches something that resembles a boat dock, with a bollard anchored in concrete for a boat to tow its lines. He takes a seat before facing the camera once more.
The Shadow: And then at Paradise you would step into the ring with the woman you chose as your challenger, Caledonia Highlander, who hadn’t even thought of going after your title and she beat you. She snapped your reign that had been so glorious and empowering. It was a powerful match, one fought with honour and respect, yet at the same time it turned the tides. Then you felt that you had not received enough attention by the all encompassing resident cult and called them out. And they heard you, they sent you Dean Coulter, or as he calls himself these days Judas. They put him out as bait, as the Oreo you wanted so badly. And suddenly you got Double Stuf, because of course the Oreo was not alone in its package, it brought its friends and bam, the Prophetess that claims to see things from the future and the past, for some strange reason could not foresee that there was somebody else in Baltimore…
Ironic, isn’t it? The big knight in shining armor rode into the arena and defended the damsel in distress from the dastardly devilish deviants. And suddenly you got what you wanted. You had the attention of the Oreos and you had a chance for redemption last week, since when you had eliminated Elisha you were still too fresh to realize the implications. You had your knight at your side, but the Oreos brought the whole freaking bag with them! And you got yet another taste of what you so willingly had shouldered yourself into. Basically you found yourself in a handicap match, 3 against 2, then 4 against 2 and finally 5 against 2. I admire your courage, I admire your spirit, but you have to learn that there are fights you can. not. win.
He pulls back the cowl of his robe and points to a scar on his temple.
The Shadow: I faced Elisha twice and while I lived to tell the tale, there are many who are not so fortunate. So now it is your turn to face your humble man from the shadows and a not so humble man from the underworld. Where do we fit into your history? We shared the ring once, yes, but now for the first time we go face to face. You have an ally at your side who saved you once, who was by your side for a second time and now is so again. You are starting to get a feel for each other in the ring, while Revenant and I have only met on opposite sides so far. But you know what? We don’t have anything to lose! Everybody is going to peg us for the loss anyway, being the opposite characters, never worked together, don’t have anything in common etc. etc.
But when you look closer, not all is peachy in your camp either! There is tension. There is disagreement. You have Adrian in your corner, you trust him implicitly. Then there is Angus Skaaland, confidante of your partner Eric Dane. Pompous, centre of the universe, married to his phone. Cocky son of a… Polar opposite of Adrian. And well, of course, the man himself, The Only Star, The Hardcase, The End Boss, Eric Dane. Is he the Yin to your Yang? Or is he just so far removed from you that it all might look all nice and complementing on paper, but when the pudding hits the mat, it all just goes splat?
He rises and begins to pace along the concrete dock, counting the points with his fingers.
The Shadow: I mean, Eric, look at yourself. You are cocky, know exactly how to piss people off, you will put your flag into whichever wind blows in your favour, you have loads of experience, are a legend in your own right and - you are old, you are broken. Where MJ has her youth and spirit, you are old and grouchy. Where she can bounce back from pretty much any hit, kick or fall, you have to do an inventory of all the body parts that you have injured throughout the years and make sure they are still all there or at least where they should be. Where MJ is open and embraces the challenge and respects her opponents with humility, you are the egomaniac bull in the china shop that is more concerned with your hoity toity designer wear and accessories than an ally.
MJ, do you really think Mr. Dane here would have given you even just a sideways glance, if it was not for a favour he owed to your father? Would he really even have the compassion to watch out for a, by his standards, wee one? No. He may have licked blood now that he has arrived in CWF and sees the potential for glory by rubbing his shoulders, even though I do not see him much as a shoulder rubber, with the greats of this federation, but again, that does not have anything to do with you. In the end it was the favour to Eli that brought him here, to watch out over you will be nothing more than a means to an end, for one maybe last shot at the big gold, to either win or go down in a blaze of glory.
He stops and for a moment gazes over the shimmery water in front of him before turning and facing the camera with a hard stare.
The Shadow: Eric, like I said, you have maybe the biggest experience of any CWF superstar, you have seen it all, you have done it all, but experience only gets you so far. You have the ring intelligence, but if your body is broken, you will not be able to cash in on this as much as you used to. Look at Revenant, he is 300 lb. Tell that to your knees, when you try to lift him or he comes for you and you have to brace yourself. I might not be a beastly monster, but I have the speed, I can analyze you, your moves, your patterns find your weak spot. And compared to MJ you do not know what you got yourself into. This is not your ordinary federation. Now I am not trying to talk myself up into one of THE superstars, no, our mutual friends from the Cookie Club are what I am talking about.
You may have met your fair share of deranged men, ruthless wrestlers and enforcers, but I very, very sincerely doubt that you have ever encountered anything even remotely like Elisha and his posse. In 98% of this planet they would be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, yet here they are trying to instill a reign of terror all under the pretense of bringing liberation. They do not stop at anything, a human life is worth as much as an ant that you squash into the ground. Are you ready? Are you ready to constantly have to live with having to look over your shoulder to make sure there is not an Oreo lurking somewhere nearby? And even if you don’t want to go that far, are you ready for what will await you at Evolution? The Forsaken and the Undead?
He puts his hood back up and begins to walk away from the camera.
The Shadow: It is easy to disregard us, we’re unbelievable, we’re not a team, we don’t have the experience. Well, be my guest. At Evolution you will find out that this is not your average federation, that we are not your average opponents… And MJ, I hope that you don’t have to find out the hard way, take care to make sure you did not bite off more than you can chew…
With this he walks off and the camera turns towards the deep croak of a bird, showing the raven swooping down from above and gliding alongside The Shadow as he walks away.