(Or, The First Stroke of the Brush, acrylic and blood on canvas.)
There were so many variables going into the Lethal Lottery last week that somehow, I should’ve seen the tag team match coming. I wish I could’ve seen, heard, or even smelled the idea of being randomly paired up with Darin Zion once again, a one-night reunion of the Masters of the Multiverse with a chance to go after the HOTv Tag Team Championship up for grabs.
It’s entirely possible I could’ve maybe planned a little better…but such was the luck of the draw.
Imagine being thrown out there in the woods with a couple wolves like Dan Ryan and Jatt Starr, looking to make literally anything of themselves by falling back in cahoots with good ol’ Lee Best. I guess you can only stay out of the reach of your so-called GOD for so long, huh?
That’s been on my mind a lot since finding out I’m about to be across the ring from Steve Solex, the Mercdad of HOW himself, a man who has flipped back and forth between being a loyal soldier and a rebel when it comes to the Best family.
Tell me something, soldier…was it worth it?
Last year you were a shining example of fighting back against the dreck that comes from Lee Best and his hired guns, Steve. I put a level of trust, a level of faith in your cause, that I went to war with you and the Highwaymen for War Games…and this is the thanks I get?
In the words of Cyndi Lauper, I see your true colors shining through.
What you did at ICONIC, and everything you’ve done the past couple weeks, reveals that you are the same damn coward I tore through two years ago. Look at the way time flies, Stevesky…at that point I was calling you out for your loyalty to the Best Alliance in spite of the evidence showing you had far more you could be accomplishing, and here we are now in 2023.
Steve Solex, still a good hand for Lee Best and his Alliance. Still an absolute trooper, a loyalist to the cause, even after the number of times Lee himself has burned you. I don’t know what dollar amount or bonus or other reward he promised you to get you to say “fuck the Highwaymen,” but it won’t be worth the ass whoopin’ that is coming your way this weekend.
And I’m not even doing it for them.
I don’t really give a shit about the Highwaymen, or how they cry themselves to sleep at night wishing any one of them would have won the HOW World Champion when the opportunity was right there in their grasp. No, my focus is solely on tearing you apart for my own purposes.
Because two years ago, you were the stepping stone I needed when everyone and their mom thought I didn’t have a shot in the world of getting far in the DeNucci Cup. Hell, that night Benny Newell could be heard actively expecting the match to end quickly in your favor, Steveweiser.
Honestly, I went back to watch that fight just to see the dumbfounded look on Benny’s face when I knocked your ass out in the third round. It was delightful.
You know what will be even better? After some much-needed rehab, ol’ Benny is back at the commentary desk…which means this week, when we step in the ring at the PPG Paints Arena, he gets to see history repeat itself. Someone might have to get a mop in case he pisses himself watching one of his old favorites getting put out to pasture by a master of his craft.
You’ve been running roughshod these past few weeks, making all these big plans for yourself as you get through Brian Hollywood and Darin Zion to punch your ticket to March to Glory, and a shot at Jace Parker Davidson and the LSD Championship.
And I have a big fuckin’ problem with that…because you’ve gone and punched my ticket.
My chances of getting to my next big showcase are slipping out of my fingers week by week, and right now I see you as the biggest thing standing in my way…so listen up closely, soldier.
If you’re not gonna stand down, I’m gonna have to knock you off your feet. I’m gonna pummel you left, right, and center, just like I did two years ago…and I will once again overwhelm you.
And I’m not gonna stop there.
Oh no, soldier…because with each passing week I get more and more furious about things being the way they are. More and more tired with settling for the status quo.
Here I am, Steverino…ready to bet on myself. The chips are on the table, and I’m going all in. You know what that means, soldier? It means putting you out of your damn misery once again.
As I go to work on the latest piece in my collection, I will cut you out of the picture…forcing you out of title contention come March to Glory, if I can help it. I wanna see you try and grab that LSD Championship with a broken arm, or a broken leg, or a broken freakin’ neck.
The possibilities are endless, and unlike the Lethal Lottery, the choice is firmly in my hands…so you’d better believe I’m going to grab the opportunity while it’s there.
Stand to attention, soldier. The marching orders are clear.
Left, right, left, right…your march to glory comes to an end.
Long Beach, California
“So that’s it, huh?”
With a group of Eternal Circle followers standing inside a makeshift art gallery deep within their home base, Thomas Crowne stands out as a voice of confusion as they watch their leader, Xander Azula, standing with brush in hand as he stares at a canvas for what seems to have been ages. Upon the canvas is a single brush stroke of blue acrylic paint, a move that some critics would call bold, others would call risky, and the increasingly-defiant Crowne would call…
“A waste of a good, solid hour that could’ve been spent doing anything else.”
The other followers stare at this rebel in their ranks, the almost murderous glares among them rejecting the audacity of Crowne to have so much as a doubt about the fledgling work of their head disciple…but the commotion finally draws the attention of Azula, who turns to face his crew before approaching them with a stern look on his face.
“Sorry, Thom, I didn’t realize I was wasting your time,” the Fighter remarks, his stern look quickly giving away to something of a smirk as he motions to the canvas. “Why don’t you come have a look at this, and tell me what you see?”
Thomas’s eyes reflect a moment of near panic as he reluctantly nods in response to the inquiry, approaching the canvas as Xander walks beside him. Thomas examines the painting closely, still unsure what to make of the single brush stroke as he finally gives an answer to the question posed by his leader.
“Well, this canvas seems…pristine, aside from the one stroke of the brush you’ve taken to it. Blue, presumably because of the surname Azula?”
Xander chuckles at this with a nod, though his follow-up remark almost drips with sarcasm.
“Well done, Crowne…you’ve cracked the code! Some art just isn’t all that deep, and I can respect–nay, appreciate–the solid sleuthing you’ve done to reach your conclusion.”
Xander smirks as he begins a slow clap, his other followers joining along in a mockery of an applause as Thomas continues to stand there with a look of confusion before Xander speaks again, pointing to the canvas.
“This piece is less about the single stroke of paint, and more about what it represents. See, this is merely the first stroke of the brush, the first step toward taking what is rightfully mine. The past couple weeks, I have heard the comparisons being made…but whereas a certain Hardcore Artist relied on the weapons in his arsenal, I am simply taking the art of professional wrestling to its limits. Every hip toss, arm drag, and elbow to the head is another swipe of paint upon the canvas building a masterpiece. Here, Thom…let me show you.”
Before he can react or respond, Thomas is grabbed by the arm and pulled in by Xander, who nails an elbow against the skull! For the first time we see one of Xander’s followers falling victim to The Snub, but this fledgling artist is far from through as he drops down, beating away at the defenseless Crowne before the other followers finally rush in to break things up.
This takes a while as Xander pummels away, drawing blood from Crowne’s head before leaning in close to speak into his follower’s ear…noticeably loud enough for the rest of the group to hear as well, as if Thomas is merely the example being made of this situation.
“Time to fall back in line, soldier.”
With this, Xander finally rises to his feet, gathering his composure as best he can as he catches his breath…before noticing a bit of blood on his hand. Glaring back down at Crowne, Xander’s face twists into a nasty smile as he walks over to the canvas, wiping his hand upon it to create a stark contrast against the blue paint. Noticing the blood’s medium dark shade of red draws another chuckle from Xander, as his followers help Crowne up to his feet.
“Well, would ya look at that…ninety-seven red.”
Xander’s followers just stare at him, unsure what to make of this drastic change of attitude…an act of passive rebellion that goes ignored by the Artist as we fade to black.