Blank Slate.

Blank Slate.

Posted on February 8, 2023 at 11:46 pm by Xander Azula

(Or, Reflections on a Road Traveled, alabaster.)

The first step in a new direction is always the hardest.

Ending one year on a loss and beginning a new one the same is rough on one’s spirits. It causes you to think back on the past, reflect on everything you’ve done to prepare yourself for such moments…and how it all went wrong.

Looking back, I see that I spent months trying to chisel away at a slate of marble, pulling away layer upon layer to come up with an impressive work of art.

Every victory inside the HOFC cage added to the majesty of this sculpture…but losing to Mike Best sent a shock wave that collapsed the whole thing, forcing me to watch it crumble in my hands. Foolishly, I thought I could build a piece of found art from the rubble, piecing it together to try and take down Darin Zion…and once again, the whole thing came crashing down.

I look at both losses as the culmination of putting my focus in all the wrong places, forcing me to keep my eyes on the path ahead…and what I see in front of me is a blank slate of alabaster, ready to be carved into something I can be proud of.

But to begin this new work, I need something to guide the process. I need a new chisel.

Coming to Joe Bergman and training in his Barn seemed a great tactic to prepare myself for War Games last year, even if the outcome wasn’t in my favor. Looking back now, I see that moment as the first sign of trouble…a red flag that kept popping up, only to be blindly ignored by a man obsessed with the unsanctioned path he walked.

Joe, when you took me under your wing, letting me train with your crew, I had hoped–nay, expected–to have all the tools I needed to be successful. The number of times I used the tools you gave me and came up short is staggering…and upon further reflection, I’ve come to realize the heart of the problem.

An artist can only work so well with what they’re given, and what you gave me last year simply wasn’t good enough. That’s a problem I could never solve last year…and now, I’m going to make my problem yours. Every failure I had can be traced back to trying too hard to follow your instruction, to take your advice under consideration…whereas every victory stemmed from following my gut, doing what came natural to me.

I’m nearly flawless inside the gilded cage, but everything else is lackluster by comparison…and you were the one that promised to help me turn things around. You gave me a dull chisel from which to create an imperfect masterpiece, which makes you the reason it all fell apart.

So it’s only natural that working from a blank slate means going after the man that only aided in my suffering last year. A man who managed to bask in the glory of championship gold multiple times over the past year, topping it all off by succeeding where I could not and dethroning GREAT SCOTT as the HOTv Champion…leaving me to languish in misstep after misstep, failure upon failure as I try and figure out where to go next.

If you had prepared me for success like you promised, who knows…maybe the roles would be reversed. It could’ve been me holding that title, Joe…it should’ve been me.

I’m glad you won though, Joe. It brings me no small amount of joy to see you pull off that big of an upset and pick up the HOTv Championship last week…especially as it provides an opportunity for the ultimate act of revenge for ol’ Xander Azula.

With one simple spin of the wheel, it could very well be me that lucks out at Lethal Lottery…and that is a chance I’m willing to take, if it means getting to put you down. I hold myself to the highest of standards as an artist in that ring, as a master of his craft…and since following my gut has led to the few crumbs of accomplishment I had last year, that will be the tactic to chip away at this slate of alabaster…to build something new, and start fresh.

My first chance to prove that this new direction is the right move, by taking my chisel and breaking apart the work of art that is Joe Bergman. By taking those life lessons and helpful tips and throwing them right back in your face, I will begin my process of renewal by showing that my methods weren’t so terrible after all.

Your attempts to refine what I built will only come back to haunt you, as I pummel away at the man that has held both the World and Tag Team titles twice, grinding away until the legend that is Ordinary Joe is nothing more than dust in my hands. For all that was taken away from me last year, I will take away just as much from you…and to top it off, I will steal away from you the honor of being called champion.

It will make for a beautiful masterpiece, Joe. The first work of art for the Haus of Eris collection, a sculpture of violence adorned by the dazzling gleam of the HOTv Championship.

And all at your expense…Coach. Thanks for nothing.

Cleveland, Ohio

We find ourselves well within the heart of the Cleveland Museum of Art, in the middle of quite a bit of traffic during the peak hours of their operations…but our attention does not focus on the endless sea of humanity that ebbs and flows within these walls, not by a long shot.

No, our attention is drawn solely on Xander Azula, standing within the exhibition area showcasing medieval sculptures, his gaze focused on a set entitled Mourner from the Tomb of Philip the Bold, Duke of Burgundy…and yes, that IS a mouthful, but such is art. Xander stares at these works of art with a contemplative look on his face, one that is largely ignored by the masses walking around him…but not lost on his compatriots Vagn Dahl and Thomas Crowne, standing in the distance as they keep a watchful eye.

“I guess he wasn’t kidding about this exploration of the arts thing, was he?” Thomas asks, drawing a light chuckle from his companion on this trip as Xander shoots a stern glare in their direction, prompting Dahl to shush Crowne.

“He’s taking it very seriously, by the looks of it. Something about his failures as of late has forced him to try and find something to latch onto.”

“I mean, I guess,” responds Thomas, the sarcasm nearly dripping from an otherwise-innocuous statement. “If you ask me, looking at all these bits of stone just makes me think something inside him cracked after last week.”

“I didn’t ask you,” Vagn replies gruffly, a grunt following shortly after indicating that the conversation has come to an abrupt end…and not a moment too soon, as Xander has finally finished his silent survey of the sculptures before turning away and walking toward the pair, the glare from earlier back on his face.

“Are we good, gents?”

A firmly frustrated tone indicates to his fellow disciples that Xander is none too pleased with the exchange, which garners a nervous nod from Dahl and Crowne. Xander himself nods, satisfied with the answer before motioning to the door.

“Then we are done here. I for one am ready to get some food…I need a damn burger.”

The shift in tone is a welcome one for Thomas and Vaghn, as they realize the mood has become less worrisome before they exit the exhibit. Heading toward the main entrance, the trio do their best to get past the busy bodies brushing past on route to their favorite collections. As they finally make their way out of the museum, Thomas finally chimes in with a lingering question from the journey.

“So, what’s with all the art observance anyway?”

Xander cracks a smile, eager to answer the question that seemed inevitable given the seemingly random trip to the museum just days before Chaos 22.

“Well, the works I studied just now belonged to an elaborate tomb for a well-renowned member of medieval society, representing people brought to a funeral for essentially the purpose of crying over someone’s death. I have brought to death my old ways, but there will be no mourners…that will be saved for a far grander occasion, like putting to rest the legacy of Joe Bergman and his soon to be very short run as HOTv Champion.”

Thomas gives a nod to this, indicating a sense of understanding as Xander steps out further in front to hail a taxi at the curb…but this understanding is quickly undermined as Crowne gives a look of confusion at Vagn, who simply shrugs his shoulders as they get to the cab, somewhat more intrigued by grabbing a quick meal than trying to make sense of the inner workings of Xander’s mind as we fade to black.