Title: Retirement
Featuring: Caledonia
Date: Various
Location: Various
Show: Evolution 50



<< So why don’t we start from the beginning?>>

 

The voice seems to come as much from inside me as from the luminous being standing before me, clad in a flowing white toga. Discordia, Eris’ personal deity (someone to hear their prayers, someone who cares) was… well, I’m not entirely sure what it was at this stage. Eris had programmed it with the personality of the Greek deity of the same name; had given it the sum-total knowledge of the Internet, and had programmed it to observe and process all of their experiences, allowing Eris to consult it when they faced a dilemma. 

 

And that is why I sit, all my senses telling me that I was in an Elysian field, while my mind tells me that I am sitting cross-legged on my bed, wearing a virtual reality headset and feeling the slight twinge in my lower back that reminds me all-too-well that I was now in my thirties. 

 

But Eris had assured me that to get the most out of Discordia, I needed to abstract my mind away from the primary world. So I shelve the thoughts of my back pain, took a deep breath, and speak. 

 

‘When you say “at the beginning”, what do you mean? Because it could mean any number of things at this point.’

 

<< You’re better equipped than I to say what the beginning is.>>

 

I chuckle weakly. ‘Fair enough, I suppose.’ 

 

And so I tell my story, starting from the very beginning. I talk about meeting my husbandat a wrestling event in Colorado, and how we had come together to the Championship Wrestling Federation. About the first run of the federation, where internal politics had blown the entire thing up. About the second run, where my husband’s World Championship and career had been brought to a shuddering halt by a bullet to the chest.

 

And then the third run, where all hell broke loose. 

 

We had been friends with Elijah and Omega for a long time – for Dan, it was well over a decade, for me, nearly nine years. It had been them who had founded the Academy, who had brought me and Eris together. Arguably, it was because of them that I had gotten my start in CWF – Eris had rebounded after an unsuccessful bid for the Academy championship and teamed up with me to go after the tag team championships. On a lark, I’d said yes… and so I’d become one-half of the World Tag Team Champions in only my second match. 

 

But as it had turned out, despite how long we’d been acquainted, neither Dan nor I had really known Elijah and Omega. Over the following few months, the storied details of their lives had emerged. They had been born (or perhaps more accurately, bred) into a shadowy organization called the Spirit Science Research Institute. The Institute had many arms, some public, some completely hidden. But at the epicenter of it all (not to be confused with The Epicentre) was a prophecy concerning a man known as Elisha to the CWF universe, The Moonchild to his followers, and The Childlike Empress to those who didn’t recognize the moniker as an Aleister Crowleyreference. 

 

<< Ah yes,>> says Discordia. << And this, if I remember, is where you come in.>>

 

Elisha had obliterated Elijah in the middle of the CWF ring. He had thrown my husband from atop The Tower, breaking his back and halting his career once more. He had suffered defeats in the ring, but had made up for those defeats by wielding more and more influence backstage, even as his power within the Institute grew.

 

Eventually the Institute itself had split in two, with the splintering party, Ouroboros, being led by Elisha. Their first grab at power was to assault the Academy itself, going after a Book that supposedly chronicled his entire existence. I had fought to defend the Academy, and gotten a broken arm and a forfeited tag team championship for my efforts. 

 

Their rise was not unopposed. We at the Academy fought them, and I managed to grab about a third of the pages in The Book. But the assault devastated the Academy forces, not least because it revealed the nature of the Academy – a training ground for foot soldiers in Elijah and Omega’s war against the Institute. The revelation of their manipulation had caused many, including myself, to turn their backs on Elijah and Omega, walking away from the Academy. 

 

The Institute’s civil war had then escalated, with CWF as its battleground. I had thrown myself into the center of the war, trying to deny both sides the control they wanted. The final fight, for control of the Institute itself, along with CWF, was hundreds of feet above the CWF ring, in a brutal and not-yet-repeated match called Higher, Wire, Fire. In the end I won the match, but it was for nothing; my sponsor, Justin Rishel, had sold us out ahead of time – he had made a deal with Elisha to increase his chances of controlling CWF, and consequently signed the Institute, which was by then rightfully mine, to Elisha. 

 

With his foes in the Institute defeated, Elisha had turned his attention to a new threat – the Forsaken, an alliance of The Shadow, Ataxia, Mia Rayne and Dorian Hawkhurst. The Shadow and his druids had battled Elisha and his Chosen aboard a tall ship at the CWF’s event Paradise – the event had ended in a victory for Elisha, as the heavens opened up to throw the Shadow off the mast of the ship with a lightning bolt. 

 

<< That was the night you ascended, yes?>>

 

It had been. That night, barely an hour after the Shadow had been struck down, I had gone into battle with the CWF World Champion, Mariella Jade Flair. It was a hard-fought contest… but it had been nice to return to an opponent whose sole motivation was to pin me and retain her title, rather than the all-out wars I’d gotten myself into in the preceding months. 

 

In the end, after a long and difficult battle, I emerged victorious. MJ Flair tapped out to my Bed of Roses, and I was crowned CWF World Champion. 

 

But for every victory I won in the ring, it felt like I lost two battles outside it. In the aftermath of the Battle of the Academy, my husband had been kidnapped. And every attempt I had made to find him was thwarted – as it turned out, a fair degree of that thwarting was by Dan himself. 

 

He had been taken and brainwashed by a group called the Order of the Oncoming Storm, an organization that had existed since the 19thcentury, and who were the progenitors of the SSRI. The Order’s goal had been to set Dan as a rival to Elisha, and regain control of the Institute and its resources for themselves. 

 

Oh, and to twist the knife a little further, it turned out that my parents were members of the Order, and Dan’s kidnapping had been an initiative of my father. 

 

In the end my desperate search to get Dan back caused me to not only forfeit my World Title but to walk away from my career altogether. I had spent months trying to find him and bring him back, only to find that he didn’t wantto come back to me. 

 

<< But you got him back in the end, did you not?>> 

 

‘I did,’ I reply, ‘sort of.’

 

A final battle, stopping Dan and the other members of the Order from executing Elisha (yes, I know, the story took a LOT of turns to get there!), culminating in a one-on-one fight between me and my husband. It was only through a drastic revelation of the Order’s plans for him that he had finally walked away from them. 

 

<< You two fought together at Northern Crown, yes?>>

 

‘We did. Got knocked out in the second round by Hostile Takeover. But I feel better about the loss given that they went on to win the whole thing.’

 

<< How have things been between you since then?>>

 

And now we’ve reached the crux of the matter. I momentarily and unintentionally become aware once more that I am not sitting comfortably, and remember once again that I am not actually having a conversation with a flesh-and-blood being in the Elysian Fields. Discordia seems to sense this. Suddenly reality goes black. When it comes back, I am in the grounds of the Academy, right on the spot where Dan and I had fought.

 

‘Why did you bring me here?!’ I snap. 

 

‘Because this is where your mind is,’ says a deep male voice behind me. I whipped my head around, and saw that Discordia had taken on the form of my husband, indistinguishable from the genuine article but for the eyes, which glowed golden. ‘This is a chance for you to say what you want to and cannot.’

 

I feel tears welling up. ‘Anywhere else. I can’t do this now.’

 

Reality shifts once again. I now stand in the middle of a crowded room, a log cabin with a blazing fire. I hear an argument between Silas Artoria and Autumn Raven, and Colton Mace howling out for Jaiden Rishel. 

 

Christmas.

 

I remember this night. I’d been surprised to get the invitation, given that Dan and I were no longer active members of the CWF roster. I see myself enter the room quietly, Dan at my side. 

 

‘So we’re literally the ghosts of Christmas past?’ I say. 

 

<< If you like.>>

 

I remember the conversation Dan and I are having, even as Discordia’s simulation replays it. 

 

‘Do me a favour and don’t drink too much tonight,’ Other-Me says. 

 

‘It’s Christmas,’ says Dan. ‘A time for making merry.’

 

‘And a time for making a fool of yourself,’ I say along with my doppelganger. 

 

‘Just back off me,’ he snaps. His words sting as much now as they did then. I see his expression soften. ‘Sorry.’

 

‘You should be,’ Other-Me says, her nostrils flaring.

 

‘It’s something I’m still working -’

 

‘No, you’re not,’ Other-Me says. ‘You’ve refused therapy, you barely even talk to meabout everything that went down. Hell, we haven’t even –’

 

Our conversation is cut short by Ataxia making a loud exit, throwing Silas and Autumn to the ground as he vanishes. Everyone laughs, and Dan is pulled off into a conversation with the Blue Scorpion. They’re joined by Alex Cain, who hands each of them a massive stein of beer. 

 

I see the look on my simulated face. Pain. Strength, true… but pain. 

 

<< How long before it happens?>>

 

I look at the clock. ‘Not long.’ 

 

Jim Gunt walks up to Other-Me and vigorously shakes her hand. It’s strange, seeing this from the other side. I know that I’m feigning happiness for the sake of the season… but Jim clearly doesn’t. And looking at my face, I’m doing a pretty good job of concealing the torrent of emotion I’m trying to hold back. 

 

‘It must be so nice for that whole ordeal to be over,’ says Jim, his eyes sparkling with both happiness and tipsiness, arising from several glasses of Czech beer. 

 

‘It is,’ I hear myself say. And… there it is. I recognize the moment where it overwhelms me, the subtle changes in my expression that give me away. ‘Excuse me,’ Other-Me says, ‘I need to go and use the loo.’

 

I know where she’s going. I don’t follow. Instead my eyes remain on Dan, seeing if he even notices. He doesn’t. That hurts. I close my eyes, knowing that Other-Me has dashed into a bathroom and locked the door, sobbing. When I open my eyes, the room is empty, the fire dead, all the joy of Christmas stripped away. Only Other-Me remains. 

 

‘Did he ever notice?’ she asks.

 

I chuckle mirthlessly. ‘Nope.’ 

 

Her face falls. ‘I had hoped he would.’

 

‘Me too.’

 

‘He’s always been stubborn, but this… we used to have perfect communication. Now it’s like we’re completely dissociated from each other.’

 

‘Trauma will do that,’ I said. ‘And Dan isn’t taking his recovery seriously.’

 

<< What about the toll things took on you?>> I’m in a kind of limbo now, the cabin fading from sight. 

 

‘What about it?’

 

<< You went through hell trying to get him back. And all we’ve talked about so far is how he’s feeling.>>

 

Reality shifts around me once again. I’m in the training ring of the Academy, in my wrestling outfit. Opposite me stands Eris.

 

‘You’ve lost everything in the course of these events,’ they say.

 

‘That’s not quite true.’

 

‘Isn’t it? You and Dan had a near-perfect life in Atlanta, working enjoyable jobs that would keep you comfortable for the rest of your lives. Then you walked away from all that so he could go back to CWF.’

 

‘That’s still an option.’

 

‘Then why haven’t you gone back?’

 

I don’t have an answer. 

 

A short blur, and Eris shifts to standing next to me in a different ring, the CWF ring. We’ve just won the Tag Team Championships, standing victorious over the Danger Boiz. 

 

‘We were the Bright Young Things, the unstoppable tag team. But a fight you had nothing to do with ended all that.’

 

Scenes flash before me. James Skelton, a nineteen-year-old kid, stumbling through the doors, bleeding from the stomach in what I now knew would be a fatal wound. Eris falling from atop the Academy. Jace Valentine snapping my arm in half.

 

The world goes dark once more. 

 

‘And yet ya persevered.’

 

Discordia has now taken the form of MJ Flair. We’re standing in the Paradise ring, an outdoor arena in Atlantic City. She’s climbed to the top rope – I remember this. She leaps, and instinctively I throw my arms up for the Bed of Roses. I feel nothing, of course – Discordia can do many things, but cannot simulate touch. Instead time rushes forward. I see MJ clapping as the World Championship appears around my waist. 

 

‘You were on top’a the world,’ she says. ‘At the pinnacle of this competition. You may’ve had reservations about coming to CWF, but y’took the hand you’d been dealt and you ran with it.’

 

‘Kind of a mixed metaphor, isn’t it?’

 

<< My program can partially mimic Ms Flair’s speech patterns, but not her idiomatic use of… idioms.>>

 

I laugh, in spite of myself. 

 

‘So what’s different this time?’

 

I’m standing at the top of the arena, in the setup for Higher, Wire, Fire. Elisha stands opposite me. ‘You’ve fought worse demons and come out standing,’ he says. ‘So why can’t you slay this one?’

 

‘Because it’s not the same!’

 

He paces like a jungle cat stalking its prey. He eyes me hungrily. ‘How?’

 

He lunges. Instinctively I throw a punch. I don’t feel any physical feedback, but he reels, toppling to the edge. But just as it looks like he’s about to fall, he shifts back up in a move that defies the laws of physics. He looks at me expectantly. 

 

‘Because…’

 

‘Because what, Lady Calico?’

 

In the brief second in which I blink, we’ve been transported again, back to the Academy, this time in the kitchen. Elijah and Omega stand in front of me. I fix them with an eye. ‘Because this time there’s no tangible enemy to fight. No-one who, if I beat, everything is restored.’

 

‘Are you no more than a sledgehammer?’ asks Elijah. ‘A blunt instrument to tear down that which is in your way?’

 

‘No, but…’

 

‘But you require something, someoneto fight. A focus.’

 

We’re back in the CWF ring. This time it’s Mia Rayne standing opposite me, a roaring crowd surrounding us.

 

‘Maybe someone like me?’ asks Mia. ‘You and I never threw down. Maybe that’s what you need, the thrill of competition once again? To test your strength against a new foe?’ 

 

I shake my head. Another shift. I’m in The Grotto. More specifically, I’m in the central room, with faceless people moving around me. The only clear face is that of Eris. I see that my virtual self is seated on a chaise-longue, and I take the chance to reposition my real legs. 

 

‘Is this what you need?’ they say. ‘It helped you once.’

 

I shudder, remembering that night. ‘I don’t need that kind of help.’

 

‘So what is it you need?’ I turn to my left and see Elijah seated in a deep leather armchair, Omega on his lap. ‘You require a focus; what better than violence?’

 

‘I’ve had enough violence for a lifetime.’ The panoramic window behind him, which would normally look into a fight club, a place of Violence, instead shows a film-like montage of the moments I’ve been involved in. I cannot bear to look at it, and I look in the other direction.

 

‘Sex, then?’ says Omega. For that is what lies in the other chamber. But I see nothing. 

 

‘We haven’t… I mean, it’s been…’

 

The opaque window peering into Sex begins to flicker, showing me and Dan getting ready for bed. Each of us looks like we want to say something, but neither of us does. We kiss, a perfunctory smooch, turn off the light, and go to sleep. 

 

<< You haven’t been able to communicate.>>

 

‘No. And because of that… it’s like everything’s been cut off. I don’t feel any desire for it, and I don’t think he does either.’

 

<< Is that why you’ve been spending so much time apart?>>

 

I sigh. Part of me knows what’s coming next before the shift even happens. 

 

I see myself arriving at the Academy. I’m invisible once again, a ghost. I remember this day, Valentine’s Day. Dan and I had decided to take some time apart – not a legal separation, just… time to find ourselves. For me, that had meant going to see my mother (who had, in fact, separated from my father over the business with the Order); for Dan, it had meant going to the Academy and seeking solace in books. But love being quite literally in the air, I had begun to miss him, distant though he was, and I decided to pay him a surprise visit. And if nothing else, I wanted to see Eris; they had remained at the Academy to help rebuild. 

 

I saw myself reuniting with Eris, the tight embrace. I remembered the conversation; now that it was in hindsight, I saw the telltale signs of apprehension in Eris’ body language. They knew what I was about to find out, and they knew what it would do to me. 

 

I walk away from the happy reunion. Eris would try to stall me, but I would get the truth out of them eventually. This isn’t what I want to see. I stalk, invisible, through the corridors of the Academy, to an elevator. I descend.

 

The underside of the Academy is a strange place, with arcane symbols etched into the ceiling. The first room I come to is a vast, cavernous expanse. I move swiftly across it. My interest is in a different section. Eventually I come to a door. I take a deep breath and cross its threshold. 

 

I’m in another high-ceilinged room.  On a slightly-elevated platform in the center sits a cage, doubtlessly salvaged from the Academy’s days as a wrestling organization. The top of the cage just barely touches the ceiling. It is a large cage, enough to hold a stretcher bed, a table with one chair, and a cordoned-off toilet and sink. In it stands the hulking form of Elisha. By it, on a folding chair… sits my husband. 

 

Their words are indistinct. I suppose this is because I never saw this, nor was it part of any public record. All I can tell is that Dan has been there for some time, talking with his one-time nemesis. And he looks like he’s opened up far more to Elisha than he has to me. 

 

I know that before long my past self will come bursting through the door. Indeed, time seems to accelerate to that point, and I see her enter. Dan springs to his feet, flabbergasted, while Elisha merely smirks. 

 

‘This is what you call taking solace in books?’ I roar, my fists clenching. 

 

‘Cali, I…’

 

‘Save it! You’re a piece of shit, Dan Highlander, and I’m done trying to fix you.’

 

I watch my past self slam the door behind her. I briefly see Dan’s face fall before everything fades to black. 

 

<< So are you ready now?>>

 

‘I’m going to have to be,’ I say. In response, the world lights up and brings me back to where this all started; out in the grounds, with Dan facing me down. 

 

‘You haven’t spoken to me since that day,’ he says. 

 

‘Would you?’ I say. ‘If you were in my place?’ 

 

‘I can’t answer that, Cali.’

 

‘Right. Because you’re not really Dan.’

 

‘I do a passably good impression, though.’

 

‘That you do.’

 

‘What would you say to him, if he were here?’

 

I still don’t entirely know. But I will myself to believe that this is my husband standing in front of me, and I try to find the words. 

 

‘I just… I went through hell trying to get you back, but having you back was a hell in itself. I know that you went through a lot too, that the Order tortured you in order to turn you into the Starchild… but it feels like you’re not even trying to undo the indoctrination. You closed yourself off to me, your wife, the person who loves you more than anyone else, the person who fought a war to get you back… and you opened up to the evillest man that either of us know.’

 

‘He was the only one who’d been through the same things I had.’ The voice sounds different somehow. 

 

‘Then why not tell me? Why not say that you need to talk to someone, anyone, who understands, even if that someone is Elisha? I would have understood, even if I didn’t like it.’

 

‘Would you?’

 

I stop short before I retort in the affirmative. The truth is that I don’t know if I would have understood. 

 

‘I’m sorry, Cali,’ he says. But now the voice isn’t coming from my earpieces, but from outside them. I pull off my headset. Standing in front of me, looking sheepish, is Dan. Behind him, looking even more sheepish, Eris. 

 

‘I’ll just, uh… I’m just gonna…’ says Eris, closing the door behind them.

 

Silence sits heavily between us. I eventually break it. ‘How long?’

 

‘All of it.’

 

‘Ah.’

 

‘Eris couldn’t bear to see you suffering. But they knew that you couldn’t face me, not after the shit I’ve done. So… they made it so that you didn’t have to.’

 

I know that I should feel hurt, betrayed, lied-to. But the more rational part of my brain prevails, tells me that this was the only way. I needed to say the things that I couldn’t say and that Dan needed to hear. ‘Do you have anything to say?’ I ask.

 

He takes a deep breath, his right hand scratching the back of his head in a gesture that I recognize as him trying to find the right words. ‘I mean, I already said “I’m sorry, Cali”… I know that isn’t enough, but I guess I can start by saying it again.’ He looked me squarely in the eyes. ‘I’m sorry, Cali. For everything that you went through, and for everything that I put you through. For being a self-centred piece of shit, not realizing that you were suffering just as much as I was… just in silence.’ 

 

‘And?’

 

‘And… I think it’s time for me to see a counsellor. But that’s part of the problem – what shrink is qualified to deal with the shit we’ve been through?’

 

I think for a moment and smirk. I nod at the VR headset on the bed next to me. Dan chuckles. 

 

‘Of course. I wonder if Eris ever installed the Oprah module.’

 

‘Wait, I could have done this shit with Oprah?’ We’re both laughing now. It’s nice. I realize that it’s the first time we’ve laughed together since… god, since a year ago, almost to the day. 

 

It’s been a rough time. 

 

But I’ll get through it. 

 

 

April 23rd– Two weeks later

 

I was washing the dishes when the call came through. I ignored it, seeing as my hands were wrist-deep in increasingly-greasy water as I scrubbed what remained of last night’s tofu stir-fry out of the pan. I figured that I would call whoever it was back, assuming that it wasn’t just another robocall. Dan was away at a conference, but he usually texted before calling. But my phone kept ringing, again and again, and my curiosity began to overwhelm me (as did my annoyance at the repeated notes of Carol of the Bells – I really needed to change my ringtone from my Christmas one). I gave an exasperated sigh, quickly rubbed my hands dry on a washcloth, and went to pick it up. Hm. CWF Headquarters. Emphatically not what I was expecting; though I couldn’t say exactly what I had been expecting. 

 

‘Yes?’

 

‘Ca-ha-liiii!’ came a voice I didn’t recognize. 

 

‘Erm… who is this?’

 

‘It’s Jon Stewart!’ I was silent, trying to figure out if that was a name I was supposed to know. He continued speaking, sounding ever-so-slightly deflated. ‘The CWF commissioner?’

 

‘Oh right!’ Truth be told I had followed CWF only loosely since leaving. I had firmly considered Northern Crown to be my last hurrah, and before that I had been busy chasing down Orders and Institutes. 

 

He sounded buoyed at the recognition. ‘So, here’s the dealio – ’ Why does this guy talk like a Hollywood producer in a movie written to satirize Hollywood? ‘- the fiftieth episode of Evolution is coming up. I want you on it.’

 

‘Oh! Well… I’m flattered, but I’m retired.’ 

 

‘We’re treating it as a celebration of the women of CWF,’ he continued, and I honestly don’t know whether he listened to or even heard what I said, ‘trying to get all the great female competitors of the 2018-19 period.’ 

 

‘Well,’ I said slowly and deliberately. ‘I’m flattered. But I’m retired.’

 

‘Come on! We’re going to go for a Triple Threat match. Main event! All the female World Champions.’

 

‘The current World Champion is a man, right?’ 

 

‘Uh-huh…’

 

‘And so was the last one.’

 

‘Well, I…’

 

‘And the one before that.’ 

 

‘That’s not – ’

 

‘You’re not selling me on this “celebration of women” thing. Maybe in 2018, but…’

 

‘We’re working on it!’ he exclaimed. ‘Tell you what, how about just a promo, huh? You can open the show, hype up the main event. MJ Flair vs Mia Rayne, one for the ages.’

 

Somehow, I could tell that this wasn’t going to end until I bit the bullet and came back to CWF. ‘Alright. A promo.’ 

 

‘Super! See you in Dallas!’ 

 

Dan’s not going to be happy about that, I thought,last time he was there he was shot

 

I went back to the dishes, processing exactly how I felt about what had just happened. I had never figured on setting foot in a CWF ring again; not because I resented the place, not even because I was no longer physically up to it, more that I was just… done. 

 

And I knew that I wasn’t actually competing. But even setting foot back in the ring would feel strange. 

 

I finished up the last of the dishes and glanced around at the remaining household chores that needed doing. My mind was sufficiently distracted that I knew I wouldn’t do them properly, would miss details. So I decided to go for a run. 

 

Despite being retired, I had still kept up most of my training regimen. In the time between the old CWF and the new, I had let myself get somewhat out of shape; not badly so, and not even to the point of being unhealthy, but enough that, once I returned to the status of “athlete”, I never wanted to go back. 

 

I settled on a run down the Beltline. It would be crowded at this time of day, especially with the weather being this pleasant, but there was nothing for that. I started out at a jog, warming myself up. 

 

Could I still do it? I wondered to myself. If I were actually to go in for this match, could I take them? MJ and Mia were both at their peak, having been active competitors at the top tier of CWF for months. And despite my training, there was no substitute for actual in-ring competition. 

 

I picked up the pace. For a time it was enough to quiet my mind… but the thoughts kept coming in. 

 

I had fought MJ before. Twice, in fact; once I’d beaten her, once we’d fought to a draw. But my matches with her were really unusual for me… which in itself was no small degree of irony, since our matches were entirely “usual”. Our motivation was “I want to beat you and I don’t want you to beat me” and our matches were sportswomanlike wrestling clinics – there was nothing about control of a global Institute, no hundred-foot-high platforms, no glass panes, no fire. We had just been two women who were amiable, even friendly, who happened to be on opposite sides of the ring. 

 

One win, one tie… you just knew that MJ wanted to pick up the win for herself, complete the set. I loved that about her. She had tremendous spirit. God… there was no small part of me that really did want this, to go in and fight Mariella Jade Flair one more time, either to give her closure… or to give myself reassurance, that I still had it. That I could still beat her. That I was still as good a fighter as I was at my peak. 

 

Part of me – and I didn’t know how potent that part might be – wanted nothing more than to call Jon Stewart back and tell him that I was in, that I would step right back into that ring and give the fans one last iteration of that dream match, me and MJ. 

 

But it wouldn’t just be MJ in there. No… there was Mia. 

 

We’d broadly been on the same side in the wars with the Institute; Mia fighting on the Forsaken front and me on the Academy. But despite that, we’d never fought; I’m not even 100% sure we ever spoke. 

 

Had this proposed match been a year ago, I would have confidently said that I could have taken Mia. But that was a year ago, and so much had changed. Back then I was the World Champion; undefeated for fourteen consecutive matches. My finishing move, the Bed of Roses, had been described as the deadliest move in CWF. Three former World Champions had submitted to it, including MJ Flair. 

 

I’d beaten Autumn Raven. I’d beaten Dean Coulter. I’d beaten Silas Artoria. Freddie Styles. Dorian Hawkhurst. Elisha. Amber Ryan. The Shadow. 

 

But that was then. 

 

That had been before Mia Rayne’s meteoric rise, before she’d metamorphized into Loki Synn and beaten MJ Flair for the World Title, before she’d obliterated former World Champion Harley Hodge in the middle of the ring. 

 

No… I had never been tested against Mia. I didn’t know whether I could beat her. 

 

A part of me said to look at the stats: I had defended my title four times, all against top-flight contenders. All four times I had walked away Champion. Other than that, I’d fought a six-person tag against Freddie Styles, Dorian Hawkhurst, and the current World Champion, Duce Jones. And in that match… the Kid That Never Dies tapped out in the middle of the ring to my submission hold. 

 

Mia, or Loki (I couldn’t keep that entirely straight), had defended twice; once a no-contest against Dorian Hawkhurst, and one victory over someone named Austin Bishop. She’d been on the losing side of a CWF vs Hostility eight-person tag, getting pinned by Jarvis King, but had beaten Jarvis and the Shadow, along with their chosen partners, in a triple threat tag match the following week. Only to lose to the Shadow the week after that. 

 

Okay. So the stats favoured me in this particular hypothetical matchup.

 

But that was then. 

 

I snapped back into reality, noticing that I’d reached the end of my run. My eyebrows involuntarily raised as I realized that I’d managed a personal best. Guess that’s what happens when you try to distract yourself by exertion. 

 

Alright, Caledonia, I said to myself in a voice that eerily resembled my mother’s. What do you actually want to do about this?

 

And so I thought about it. I imagined myself standing in the ring – Mia in one corner, MJ in the other, the greatest female wrestlers in this incarnation of CWF (and, dare I say it, arguably the greatest in this incarnation of CWF overall!). I heard the roar of the crowd, the anticipation. And I imagined myself locking in the Bed of Roses – on who, I couldn’t say – and being declared victor, the strongest of CWF’s strongest women. 

 

But then I thought about the other times I’d done “one more match”. I thought about falling down the rabbit hole of the Institute and the Order, of having my arm broken in two, of spending months chasing down my kidnapped husband, only to find that he had no desired to be found… of fighting him in a battle that could have ended so much worse than it did. 

 

No, I told myself. No, it’s not worth it.

 

I’m flattered. 

 

But I’m retired. 



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