---Wednesday 26th June, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania---
“Typical! You’re such an embarrassment! A disappointment! I rely on you for one simple thing and you can’t even do that. I knew you were never cut out to follow in my footsteps!” ‘Atomic’ Adam Vaughn is in full meltdown, the timbre of his prodigious temper enough to break the serene, near idyllic night over their street in Suburban Philadelphia. His tirade is directed at his own son, Zach, known around the world as Zach van Owen, who recently failed to defeat Dan Ryan and seize the CWF World Title. With a bag packed and making a beeline for the door, Zach stops to round on his father.
“Fuck you dad! If only you would take your head out of your arse! But no! You never cared about what I’m capable of, or my career. It was always about your legacy, about the celebrity of Adam Vaughn. I was willing to do anything for you! I wanted nothing more than to be just like you. But I never wanted to be you!”
“You’ll never be me!” Adam bellows.
“And for that I’m eternally grateful.”
The front door shakes in its frame as Zach makes his exit, stealing into the night, fighting back tears.
How could everything have gone so wrong, so drastically and so quickly?
For his shameful failure to beat Ryan, Zach was essentially kicked out of home, not that he wanted to stay under the same roof as someone who didn’t want to believe in him. Waiting out on the street for Zach atop a motorcycle is Leona Gainsborough, who thankfully had found it within herself to forgive the way he had acted previously. Without even a second glance at his former home, the couple are off into the darkness.
Inside the Vaughn household, Adam watches from behind a curtain as they leave.
“You’ll come crawling back you ungrateful son of a bitch. You always do.” He growls to himself and turns to forget the incident, putting it all behind him. Standing there with her hands on her heads and an expression that was well beyond unimpressed is his wife, Zach’s mother. Next thing Adam feels is a stinging in his cheek as she slaps him across the face.
“Your hurt pride and ego has ruined this family. Zach loved you, adored you, but you are pushing him away. You need to fix this Adam. I want our son back!” She laments, her face streaked by the moisture of recently shed tears, as she swiftly turns her back on her husband to tend to their other child, Zach’s younger sister. Adam Vaughn is left to favour his reddened cheek, standing stunned by the defiance in his household.
---Friday 19th July, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania---
Friday nights is games night at Johnny Destructo’s Hero Complex, a well-reputed comic shop, so the place is a lot more crowded than expected when Dorian Hawkhurst arrives. After being contacted by Mia Rayne with the opportunity for a tag match against Dan Ryan and Lindsay Troy of the Inner Circle, a most enticing opportunity to say the least, Dorian asserts that if he is going to take her place then there is only one partner he feels comfortable tagging with. Hence his trip to Philly to find Zach. Receiving little to no assistance from the desk attendant Dorian is directed further into the bowels of the shop. He picks his way through the crowds, finally spying Zach in a back room, seated with a group playing what looks to be Dungeons and Dragons. Very much on brand for the Game-Changer.
Finding him wasn’t the hard part, convincing him to come back was. As Dorian approaches he is stopped dead in his tracks by the form of Leona Gainsborough. Finding Zach was never going to be difficult, convincing him to get involved was, and Dorian was never one for Skill Ranks in persuasion, but the stakes were too high for him not to.
“What do you want?”
“You should go.”
“No, you listen. You haven’t been around so you didn’t see what happened to Zach. This bullshit with his dad and the World Title really did a number on him. He’s all kind of messed up, corrupted by his father and glitching worse than a Bethesda game. He lost touch of who he is and feels he needs to find himself again before he fulfil his promise of coming back strong.”
“I get that, and part of me can empathise, but we’ve all got our shit. You should hear my tragic backstory lately. The fact is, the only way he’s gonna back into the game is by playing the game. And I think I got an answer for him. I know your protecting the guy you love, I respect that, but you gotta trust me on this.”
“Leona what’s going on-“
Zach pauses abruptly, stunned by the presence of his erstwhile friend, partner and at times confidant.
“I’m gonna have to stop it there. Something just came up, family business.” Zach says after several tense moments pass. “Pick it up next week.”
The others at the game table grumble as they pack-up and try to shoot a dirty look at Dorian, but the Demon of Sobriety rolls a natural 20 on intimidate, shooting them down with his own scowl. They shuffle past meekly. Even Leona takes a step back, allowing him entry and moving to stand by Zach's sode. The Game-Changer, former CWF Impact Champion, pushes out a seat for Dorian and motions for him to join him at the table.
“So this is your new Zach-Cave for the time being. I can dig it.”
“It’s no Fortress of Solitude, or Stark Tower, but it serves its purpose.”
“We got a situation. Mia called me out of the blue, asking for some intervention in dealing with a couple of real bad folk. So I’m getting the band back together.”
“The ole Goth Squad hey?"
They share a warm, yet strained smile.
"Why come to me? Sounds like you and her have got this."
“Don’t be a Goomba. From what she was saying these Inner Circle folk ain’t to be trifled with, so I told her that if she wants this done, then it’s gotta be done right. I want you by my side kid.”
“Wait. Did you say Inner Circle? As in Lindsay Troy and Dan Ryan?”
“Yeah them’s the two.”
Leona and Zach share a worried expression, Zach putting his hand over hers on his shoulder as reassurance.
“You’ve made a mistake. I ain’t the guy for you.”
“You’re all up in your head, full of doubts. Believe me I’ve been there and worse lately. I’ve been in the deepest, darkest hole with no hope of seeing light. We’re both wanting a chance to right some wrongs, to pick ourselves up and start over. Well here it is. Our reset.”
“We just charge in there like the Rescue Rangers? What if I’ve lost my fighting spirit? That’s why I’m holed up in here Dorian. I’m scared, afraid that I’m no longer good enough, that my best doesn’t rate on the scoreboard and I can’t fulfil my promise to the CWF universe.”
“This ain’t about the CWF Zach. It’s about you, me, Mia. Us."
“Lindsay I’m not worried about. Perhaps once upon a time she may have been a true contender, but I’ve played that game to 100% completion. Now she’s more akin to an NPC, a symbiote leeching off of Dan Ryan. A symbiotic relationship is supposed to be mutually beneficial. I get that she can ride his coat-tails and feel she’s falsely achieved some sens eof importance beneath him, but I’m not exactly sure what he gets out of it…a scapegoat perhaps? Or have someone with less unredeemable qualities than him act as the face of the group? It’s a mystery. What I do know, it’s awfully hard to get out from within someone’s shadow. And I’m certain Lindsay wont’ ever see the light of day again. That means our biggest concern is Skeletor himself, Dan Ryan. He’s the difficulty above extreme, the one level I just can’t seem to beat.”
“This time buddy you got yourself a new Cheat Code. You got me, you got your family.”
Zach shakes his head.
“My ‘family’ is what got me in this mess to begin with.”
“No, not your arsehole dad. I’m talking your less dysfunctional family. Mia thinks of you as a brother. The Forsaken may not be a thing anymore, but through our trials we forged some serious bonds, ones hard to break, and thought we may fight like all siblings do, we’ll have each other’s backs where needed. Mia’s getting me back on my feet, so I’m here to ask you for this favour to help our big psychotic sister and help yourself in the process.”
"Through the power of friendship?" Zach replies snidely but is admonished by Leona with a squeeze of the shoulder.
“He’s not wrong Zach.” Leona chimes in, “Last time nearly broke you, but that’s because it wasn’t really you fighting. You said you wanted to start from the bottom and work your way back to the top, but perhaps you need a kickstart. And this time you’ll have us by your side, people who are features not a bug and who actually care for you and support you.”
“Well I guess, technically Ryan did vow to end me ‘for good’, but choked in the final round. I’m still here and standing after all. So I guess there’s that.”
“And that ain’t nothing kiddo. Ryan’s all hot-air, het up on his own ego, with his one-woman cheer squad inflating him at every chance, but together we can take them down a peg, like they ain't nothing but Level 1 noobs. We can show the CWF that this Moblin can bleed just like the rest of us. Mia knows if anyone can take Dan down it's you. You've surprised him before, nearly taken him to a Game Over and that is what she wants, what we all need. These pricks need to be checked and who we gonna call if not Zach van Owen?"
Zach looks to the table, mulling over his thoughts. If there is anyone the roster Zach needs to prove himself against, its Dan Ryan. His kryptonite.
"I guess I could give it another try."
"Do or do not Zach. There is no fucking try."
Zach looks up at Leona who shrugs her shoulders. Ultimately if Zach is going to do this it has to be his decision.
"This is a limited edition release yeah? A one time thing?"
"You're call kiddo."
"...Alright fine. Let's roll initiative."
Zach isn't sure if he is ready to step back into action, but it isn't just going to happen with him sitting around rolling dice. The situation is different than before, Zach is different, and who is he to ignore a call for help.
One way or another, win or lose, it's time to get your game on!