It was the longest journey in the world.
The Europeon tour had been less than ideal. While the win/loss record was beyond exceptional, ever since Silas and Ito arrived it had been nothing but stress and tension. Ito had been running the numbers and parting his knowledge, but Silas had become more and more withdrawn with each passing day.
The plane flight from Germany had the two not speak a single word to each other, both on the plane and at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport during the brief stopover. They sat together, ate together, travelled together, but they only exchanged glances at each other. Ito was almost desperate to get some sort of word from him, and had tried to get something from him, even going so far as to buy his dinner both on and off the plane, but had received a courteous nod. There was communication, but barely on the same level that a customer interacts with a store employee.
Even in the car ride to the hotel they didn’t communicate, although Ito did speak to the car rental garage and the hotel receptionist, and even suggested that Silas drive the two of them to their destination.
It was an opportunity to observe Silas in a more idle, passive state, and it took only a few minutes for Ito to observe some abnormalities.
There was a slight bloodshot in Silas’ right eye, subtle but noticeable, and a small, black outline on his eyelid that was difficult to pinpoint what it was. The nighttime lights of the outside world obfuscated the view, but Ito could tell it wasn’t any form of makeup of guyliner.
Most notably, he saw that Silas was changing their expression subtly, tensing small muscles at sporadic intervals, as if they were reacting to an argument directed towards them.
All the while, Silas kept hearing that damn voice.
Second half of the tournament, more chances to fall flat. How does it feel; to be in such an environment where one small screw up can completely destroy your credability? It must feel crushing, this sensation of fear. If only there was something I could do to help.
Silas gripping tightly on the wheel didn’t go unnoticed, as both he and Ito pulled into the hotel for the night. They wasted no time, checking in and heading up seven floors to their room. It was a routine that they had done hundreds of times before to the point that it eventually becomes second nature.
The room was shabby, bland, forgettable with a dreadful view of a nearby wasteland, and it looked like there is a small stain on the corner of the ceiling.
They were definitely back in America.
Silas quickly threw his bag on the floor as he made his way to the fridge. Practically empty, but at least it had the carton of orange juice he requested. A quick pour later, and his mouth was no longer in drought.
He turned to start walking towards the lounge area, but Ito was already next to him, impeding him from going any further. His face was full of fire and ire, but Silas kept calm.
HIDETAKA ITO: Listen to me, Silas! Don’t you dare think for a second this leg has been comfortable.
SILAS ARTORIA: I lost a ma--
HIDETAKA ITO: Don’t you dare play coy with me!
Ito snatched the orange juice out of Silas’ hand and threw it into the sink; a miracle that the glass didn’t shatter, although it wasn’t like the damage bill Silas had accumulated was acceptable. Silas just looked at the sink, eyes wide from the audacity of the Japanese man, but before he could react, Ito grabbed his jaw and force his eyes to look at theirs. The nominally peaceful and relaxed Ito was gone, replaced with a more forceful Ito, demanding and near terrifying.
Silas had observed this type of Ito before, he previously enraged the man during his brief time in the JWA, but unlike before, he wasn’t the slightest bit afraid.
It didn’t stop Ito giving Silas a stare that could burn a thousand villages to ashes.
HIDETAKA ITO: You know damn well that the worst kind of answer is a non-answer. You can spout about how you’re tense, stressed, not sleeping well, any pathetic pity descriptor in the dictionary, but you and I know that there is something crawling inside your head.
Silas sighed with irritation, like a teenager being told off for not doing as he’s told, and lightly slapped Ito’s hand away from his jaw. The grip wasn’t tough, so the minimal force was enough to free Silas from this grip. He makes his way towards the lounge area of the hotel room, but Ito isn’t far behind, like a tiger chasing after its prey.
Although the tone of the prey was dismissively calm, oblivious to reality or consequences.
HIDETAKA ITO: I know you hate seeing me being attacked, but it goes beyond that. I’ve had to watch you at ringside slide deeper and deeper into something aggressive and explosive. I admit, it’s handy, but not when the match is already over!
SILAS ARTORIA: I needed to ven--
HIDETAKA ITO: There are other methods of venting than just attacking your opponent--
Silas shoots around and faces Ito.
SILAS ARTORIA: NO THERE ISN’T ITO AND SHUT UP AND LISTEN!!!
Silas’ glare burned holes through Ito’s head, and the Japanese mentor jumped back in shock. His student’s teeth gritted in frustrated rage, and the length Silas held this expression was enough to make the thick skinned Ito slightly unnerved, even if he didn’t show it.
Finally, Silas closes his eyes, takes a deep breath, and relaxes his shoulders. He opened his eyes, still containing the determined and stubborn nature that came with his outburst, with Ito alike not backing down.
Ito wanted answers that Silas was not providing, and it went on for long enough.
SILAS ARTORIA: I know you hate nonanswers, but if I let out everything that’s been haunting me, you’re going to think of me in complete disgrace.
HIDETAKA ITO: As opposed to now? Hiding the facts from your mentor or, at worst, obfuscating the truth from the one supporting you! I’ve watched the show a lot longer than you think I have, so don’t take me as an idiot.
The two looked at each other for about one full minute, with Silas near lamenting the words Ito spoke, and Ito frustrated by Silas’ inability to tell him the truth. Nonanswers were going to continue coming, unless an ultimatum is reached.
Silently, Ito sat down on one side of the sofa, and got comfortable. He looked upon Silas with a grim look, reluctant.
HIDETAKA ITO: You’re going to tell me everything, no smoke or mirrors, or I am walking out of the door!
Silas’ eyes widen in shock, with the aggressive tone completely disappearing. Ito didn’t react, he held the leverage, and he didn’t want to walk into the unknown.
Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. Humph.
Silas took a deep sigh and didn’t say anything, instead opting to start pacing around the room, contemplating. The Passenger was right. If he was to reveal anything, there was a real risk of losing the man whom was pivotal to his upswing in fortunes. All that knowledge, all that training, everything, gone.
But on the other hand, the same thing will happen if he gives them something more noncommittal. He could talk about the stress of the tournament and the loss adding more weight to the situation, but he’s already exhausted that option and Ito is aware that it’s not the case.
Well...can only go upwards from there.
He looked at Ito.
SILAS ARTORIA: You ever had a bad dream that lingered on after you wake up, and you could not for the life of you shake off the depressing feeling? Think of it like that, but it’s been a screaming voice for as long as you can remember.
SILAS ARTORIA: The sensation--no, need for violence is what keeps the aches and the screaming voice at bay, and if its appetite is not satisfied, then it pounds against my head again and again, and it was only exemplified by the JC defeat. Now with the additional pressure, it’s using it’s leverage to get what it wants, and when Starlight fell like a sack of potatoes, it screamed “IS THAT IT!? ARE YOU KIDDING ME!?”
He stormed towards Ito in a moment of fiery temper. Towering over his mentor, he opened up his arms, although was far from welcoming.
SILAS ARTORIA: HAPPY, ITO-SAN!? FORGIVE ME IF I DIDN’T WANT TO TELL YOU ANYTHING, BUT MY STORY ISN’T EXACTLY RELATABLE OR BELIEVABLE! SO ARE YOU GOING TO WALK OUT THE DOOR AND CALL ME CRAZY, OR DO I NEED TO TELL YOU THE SAME STORY IN MORE COPIOUS DETAIL!?
Slowly, he lowers his arms, exhausted and defeated, and finally letting everything out.
SILAS ARTORIA: Because either way, I’m going back into the tournament to win the whole thing, with or without you.
He paused for several moments, before looking out of the window to observe the trashy wasteland. A city further along juxtaposed with the barren land, and with the melancholy sight, he sighed to himself and looked back at his mentor.
SILAS ARTORIA: I don’t know how others do it, but I’ve been doing this for too long to receive little to no appreciation. I’m winning, but I’m losing my passion for this when people doing worse than I get more television time. There’s even people who have left the promotion and returned getting more prominence than I ever did.
SILAS ARTORIA: I’ve never left this company through the repeated turmoils and exoduses. I’ve been busting my ass for nearly two years, and not even a goddamn thank you from management was sent! I’m getting to the point where I’ve been running for so long that my legs can’t even walk another step further. Is this my fault, that even as a front runner this tournament is making me a miserable bastard?
Ito flinched slightly. Not like Silas to swear with such vindictiveness.
Aww, what’s the matter? You’re going to cry, too? You’ve always been that pathetic.
Ito didn’t say a word as Silas gritted his teeth and sat down on the other side of the sofa, as if he’s just given up. There was a wide gap in between them, and the Canadian didn’t even give his mentor a mere glance. He simply stared at the screen of a television that wasn’t turned on. At least it wasn’t damaged, nor was it featuring the CWF panel spouting anything that could tip him over the edge. He was still heavily breathing like he got into an explosive verbal argument.
Ito couldn’t do anything but finally make a move.
He pressed the remote, and tuned the television to the DVD player, replaying a match Silas had...
...and then he turned back towards Silas.
HIDETAKA ITO: I think I know how to deal with your voices…
Silas slowly turned towards Ito, with his eyes flooded but with a look of interest.
HIDETAKA ITO: ...and how we can reignite that spark.
Lesson number five: stay calm.
It had been four matches, and so far Silas was aware that he would need a miracle to finish the Crescendo tournament in a decent standing, but he was finally in the swing of things. His time in the JWA had taught him that each promotion had their target audience, and commonly hired athletes that specialised in a certain style. The benefit of being an outsider is that the routine one athlete has could blend into the rest of the roster, and the outsider can act as a wrench.
As was the case with this match against Aguni Shumei. They were excellent in the ring, but the reliance on the JWA style allowed Silas to counter a good deal of offence, and finally deliver some of his own strikes.
But he was still relatively young, and the fact that this was the first time he was able to finally get in his own offence was exhilarating, and more unfortunately, addicting. He couldn’t believe himself, but he wanted to treasure it for as long as he could.
Soon, he got himself carried away, and his strikes traded power for speed. It didn’t take long for his strikes to become completely ineffective, and a hard hitting elbow knocked Silas dizzy. His receipts were returned, and a hard kick to his head completely knocked him out.
Silas Artoria, zero wins, five losses, five lessons taken.
The rooftop of the hotel. On one side it faces inland, with a grassy wasteland separating it from Portland itself. On the other side, it faces the Pacific Ocean, a stunning flat ocean surface where the sun sets, creating a red sky and a light haze. The breeze was cool and soft, with the coastal smell welcoming for any outsider.
Silas sits alone on the edge of the hotel, about 12 floors high, although he was unconcerned with the drop. He had dealt with worse things before. His hat was on the edge, with his hair dancing with the breeze.
SILAS ARTORIA: Beautiful, isn’t it?
He looks at the frame, relaxed, but neutral.
SILAS ARTORIA: I’ve always thought about where I would go after I retire. I’ve always dreamed of somewhere relaxing where the noises and stresses of the world wouldn’t reach me.
He looks back at the sunset, slowly descending on the horizon.
SILAS ARTORIA: Portland wouldn’t be the ideal place, but this atmosphere, this coastline, where you can watch the day end, picture perfect.
He adjusts himself, facing towards the frame with his back completely turned away from the sun. Some shuffles to get comfortable.
SILAS ARTORIA: The European leg of the Alpha and Omega tournament is over, and we find ourselves in, of all places, Portland. Not the most ideal of places, and I don’t mean that as a jab against Portland. It’s just that after an exhausting travel schedule, a fourteen hour flight back to America was the least ideal of travel conditions. But that’s the past.
SILAS ARTORIA: I’m currently fighting for first place, as I am tied first for points and tied second for position. That damn defeat has wrecked everything. My confidence is shaking, and it’s...terryfying.
SILAS ARTORIA: I must also send my deepest, sincerest apologies to Starlight. I’m not sure what became of me, but please understand that I didn’t tease the attack in bad faith.
He looks at the final seconds of the sunset.
SILAS ARTORIA: Still, we must continue on.
The sun vanishes, and darkness sweeps over the sky. A lone light on the rooftop turns on, and illuminates Silas. Shadows are cast over his eyes harshly, and the relaxed demeanor has been replaced by a more upfront and disciplined posture.
SILAS ARTORIA: PJ Blake…
He adjusts himself.
SILAS ARTORIA: ...brought in to replace an entrant that went off the radar finds herself on my conveyor belt. Brave, certainly brave, to enter something as cutthroat as this tournament, and whose purpose is to firmly place individual athletes in suitable card positions.
SILAS ARTORIA: This is your hometown, and the people here are going to be leaning more towards your side, since you also have less points than I and people love underdogs, but the Alpha and Omega tournament has its own momentum. And judging from the address to your fans, it’s a twisted logic you may not understand yet.
He stands up, and dusts himself off.
SILAS ARTORIA: You have done well to defeat Bubba Love and Autumn Raven, but you fell flat with Kyuseishu, and here you are about to go toe to toe with the only person to have defeated him. Have you ever tried to face someone like me before, Blake?
He tilts his head upwards, and one of his eyes appears bright red, bloodshot, and outlined with a void darkness.
SILAS ARTORIA: I hate to break it to you but your biggest mistake was requesting my best to go against your best. You are an excellent competitor, adaptable, and succeeded in going level with some of the veterans on our roster, regardless of outcome. You even did well in our tag encounter, even if your partner wasn’t up to standard.
He picks up his hat.
SILAS ARTORIA: However…
He puts his hat on, shrouding his eyes in darkness.
SILAS ARTORIA: I have fighting in this company for two years, and I have seen plucky upstarts come and go. They come in, bright eyes, and either run away just before they go against me, or they silently leave after taking me on. Because they know that even if they get the upper hand, there is something that lurks underneath that is far stronger and more terrifying than any of the slams, crashes, and bumps you have taken in your entire life.
Deep breath out.
SILAS ARTORIA: I’ll bring my best, as promised, but let me part some advice to you.
SILAS ARTORIA: You better beat me quick!
SILAS ARTORIA: Ask Autumn what comes of athletes who take their sweet time with me.
Deep breath out, and for the first time in what feels like years, a slight smirk escapes him.
SILAS ARTORIA: Say your prayers.
The feed cuts off, tuned to a dead channel.