“All I really want is something beautiful to say,
To never fade away, I wanna live forever!”
When it first became apparent that Charles De Lacy was going to be an obstacle to my loftier goals, I devised an entire mission. A mission that would have seen me track down and desecrate the final resting places of every notable ancestor. After that, I would track down any that were living and torment them to the fullest of my ability and with whatever my fractured psyche could imagine. But after starting with William the Conqueror, I honestly couldn’t be bothered. Especially as Chuck seemed to shrug it off with little care.
That was when I decided that I shouldn’t focus on Charles De Lacy’s past. I needed to focus on his future. Namely, that I needed to ensure that he didn’t really have one. His career. His championship aspirations. His ability to walk and breathe without a respirator needed to end with me. And his bloodline needed to end with him. He may be descended from conquerors but I vowed to make sure he would end up as one of the subdued – preferably tapping out to the Broken Wing.
That was when I decided to attack him after his match. That time was never meant to wound him significantly or do any major damage. It was simply a warning shot, so to speak. It was a moment that was to wake him up to the threat that I pose. It was designed to show him that he shouldn’t underestimate or ignore me. But then, again, he shrugged it off. And with his inaction and silence, I started to doubt my place in the world – within HOW. For the first time since I returned, I started to think that I’d made a mistake.
That malaise only grew, feeding on what passion I’d once had and making not care about anything. I could barely get out of bed, not even for my followers to whom I had promised the world. For all my anguish, they never once faltered, sticking by me through it all. They tried to guide me back to the light, to no avail. But regardless, they remained ever loyal, ever faithful. As mind longed for nothing but sleep, they continued to stoke my internal fires as best as they could.
Now, I can see.
I can see that it wasn’t the light I needed to be guided towards. It was the darkness. I needed to embrace the more shadowy parts of myself. The parts that I didn’t know for a long time exist. The parts of myself that a disloyal cunt named Max Kael awakened like a kaiju. If Charles De Lacy doesn’t want to show me the courtesy and respect I have earned, so be it. If Charles De Lacy wants to underestimate the threat I am, in and out of the ring, so be it. I’ll absorb and make use of it. His ignorance will be like the blood that flows through my veins. His lack of preparation and training will be like the air that I breathe.
I am awake…
…and come the moment that the bell rings In God’s House, he’s going to finally meet me. The real me. The me that the likes of Max Kael *spit* and Jatt Starr and countless others, including even Mike Best, on occasion, have met. It’s fitting that the next Pay-Per-View is named In God’s House, because when all is said and done, you will come to know me as The Devil. You want to believe I don’t exist and overlook me, that’s fine. That’s your prerogative. But it’s a choice you make at your peril, because it just means that you’ll learn the truth when it’s all too late.
When we are finally standing opposite each other in the squared circle…when that bell rings…I am going to make you scream. I am going to tear your flesh and crack your bones. I am going to make you bleed. I am going to deliver upon you the kind of beatings not seen since the High Octane Wrestling days of old. I am going to defeat you so resoundingly, and so painfully, that it’s going to be like nothing you’ve experienced even in your storied career. As equally befitting the Pay-per-views name, my decimation of you is going to be nothing short of biblical…
…And you, Charles De Lacy, will only have yourself to blame.
“He’s what?” Shane exclaimed, barely able to grasp what he was hearing.
Riley hesitated in repeating the words. It was safe to say that she hadn’t expected the night to take the turn that it had. Upon seeing Charles and his cartoonish friend leave the poor excuse for a hotel, she followed. Not wearing a mask, she had easily blended in. Following Charles and his cartoonish friend into a dance studio, she had been present for his embarrassing attempt at dancing in the Latin-American style. It had taken everything in her not to laugh out loud. She managed though, so as not to draw attention to herself and also think what her master was facing as a joke. To underestimate him would be to commit the same cardinal sin Shane thought Chuck himself was.
“He was dancing,” she eventually answered in the present, unfortunately unable to keep the glee out of her voice.
“You think that’s funny?” Shane bellowed.
Riley managed to wipe the smirk from her face, though the light of such glee remained burning in her eyes. “Of course not,” she lied.
Shane turned away from her and the bright neon glow that poured from the window. This time it was an arctic blue. It obviously wasted intentional, but matched Shane’s chilly mood nonetheless. It was a far cry from the blood red that had shone while his passion was burning – both regarding his upcoming match and towards Riley himself as he’d roughly laid claim to her the night before.
“So, I’m here, even in an abandoned building, busting my ass for this match,” Shane lamented, gesturing to his environment, which now included weights and other equipment. “And he’s still just frolicking about Miami?”
Riley didn’t answer the obviously rhetorical question as Shane pondered his own words. Eventually, he lashed out at whatever his hands could find. Spilling tools as forgotten and abandoned as the building itself, Shane sent them flying. Most notably was a box of nails, that clattered against the walls and floor but thankfully never found flesh to injure. Regardless, Riley jumped at the outburst of anger.
“There’s got to be more to it than that,” Shane eventually followed up. “Whether he’s trying to get to know me and America or not, that’s not the way to go about it.”
Shane turned of his heels back towards Riley, the aforementioned anger blazing in his eyes.
“Dancing?” Shane yelled towards her, if not directly at her. “Actual dancing?”
Riley could only nod, not sure what she could or should actually say in this moment. Shane, meanwhile, was picturing all the possible dances that Charles could be attempting to learn. In comparison, he thought about the work out he’d undertaken over the last twenty-four hours – the aches and pains of which he still felt. At the same time, he felt that familiar anger rising up within him. The anger that fuelled him. The hatred that kept his depression at bay. Still, he could feel those sorrowful emotions lurking ever present in his mind. And looming in each chamber of his heart even as it itself beat with fury. Once again, those frustrating questions moved to the forefront of his mind and bashed like a hammer at his temple from within. Is this really what I’ve become? Is this how lowly people view me as a threat, as a wrestler?
“Maybe there was more to it than we think,” Shane added, trying to find meaning in a random pattern, fully aware of how much of a conspiracy theorist he sounded – like he was only a step or two away from declaring that the Earth was flat. “Maybe there was some kind of code to everything. Maybe it was some kind of secret training I need to untangle?”
“Maybe,” Riley responded, unable to put even an ounce of false conviction in her voice.
Shane sighed, more than capable to read between the lines. He strode across the otherwise barren room with that sigh still hanging in the air and the bitter taste of it on his lips.
“Why do I even bother with this guy?” Shane concluded with a lamenting tone as he slumped back into his newly-favourite armchair. “Why do I bother with HOW? A place where I am neither respected or adored?” He ran his fingers over his eyes, rubbing them furiously as a wave of tiredness suddenly washed over him.
“Because you are not doing it for them,” Riley replied, making short work of the distance between them and dropping into Shane’s lap. He groaned in response but she ignored the potential discomfort, pulling his head into her chest. He did nothing to resist. “You are doing it for you.”
“Hmm,” Shane grunted, neither in agreement or opposition.
“You are doing is because though he is ranked beneath you, defeating him will prove that you are right to ranked in the Top Five,” Riley continued, thought she knew she was just repeating Shane’s own words from the weeks prior. “You are doing it because this is your last ever run in HOW and you want to go out on top, with the World Championship in your hands and held aloft one last time.”
Shane clearly recognised his own words and, though his depressed brain tried to resist, he fought to absorb them. He fought to reclaim the resolve he’d found in the last day or so when it comes to Charles De Lacy. As though sensing that internal struggle, Riley carried on in order to try and lift him out of the slump he had found himself in.
“You’re doing it because he clearly needs to be taken down a peg or two. You need to sew his mouth shut. Then make him his lips to shreds in desperation to scream from the Broken Wing.”
Shane chuckled at the mental image she had provoked.
“You’re doing it because you are Shane fucking Reynolds,” Riley concluded. “You’re doing it because you are cementing your legacy for all time and make yourself all-but immortal. And because it’d take more than a jumped-up, aristocratic phoney to keep you from that goal.”
“You’re right,” Shane accepted.
Riley mock-punched him in the shoulder. “You’re goddamn right that I’m right.”
“Did he really step on her toes?”
Riley nodded. “He was awful. If he can’t even manage dancing, I honestly don’t know how he’s made it as far as he has in wrestling.”
Shane suddenly gripped her under her arms and lifted her straight up as he simultaneously stood. He continued to hold her aloft for a good few moments, gazing up at her with gratitude brimming in his eyes. A gratitude that hovered silently between them.
“Well, some would say that dancing and wrestling are different,” Shane eventually said instead.
“Moves are moves,” Riley countered. “And knowing your way around a dance hall isn’t too far off from a professional wrestling ring.”
At that point, Shane lowered her back to the ground. As he did so, one hand slipped into one of her own, locking fingers. The other, meanwhile, slid over her hips and around to Riley’s back. Immediately, he began leading her around the room, each of his steps dancing expertly as he went. A decade of lessons for him and Elizabeth had been thrust upon them by their parents and were now paying off in the moment. Unbeknownst to them, eyes were watching from outside as they bobbed and weaved past the window. That was where Shane concluded his demonstration of prowess, twirling Riley once more before dipping her low.
“You’d think somebody allegedly descended from royalty would know his way around a ballroom,” Riley breathlessly offered as Shane held her in place.
Shane shrugged. “It’s almost like breeding doesn’t guarantee talent and class.”
Shane swept her back up and pulled her close to him. In the reflection of her eyes, he realized how Phantom of the Opera he seemed. He didn’t care, however, still surfing on a wave of gratitude. Mixed in with it was also a sense of desire and longing. He could tell that Riley felt it too, but she continued to prove herself more pragmatic than him.
“You need a shower,” Riley uttered. “And then we train again.”
Shane sighed despondently, even though he knew that she was right.
“He may be slacking off and thinking he can simply coast to victory,” she added, despite knowing that he already knew these facts. “But you are better than that. You are better than him, and you are going to prove that – not just on Sunday but each of the days leading up to it. He may not have any clue who you are or what he is dealing with, but I do. And I believe in you.”
“And just for that,” Shane replied, “I’m going to spill an extra amount of his blood. Just for you.”
“You better,” Riley demanded with her own longing smirk now. “Now go! No distractions. No procrastinations.”
Riley shoved him with all her strength and Shane relented, loosing his grip on her. He turned and headed towards where they had set up a shower in the former apartment upstairs. He had just made it through the door and vanished from view when Riley rushed to the other door. It was the door that led to the staircase and the street. It was also the door that a manila envelope had slid under while they were dancing. Somehow, Shane had missed it but she hadn’t. She picked it up and was wholly unprepared for what was written on it.
“No distractions! No procrastinations!” Riley repeated as her eyes remained fixed on the envelope.
As she did so, still pulled the lighter from her pocket and flicked the flame to life. She immediately held it to the corner of the envelope, making sure Shane hadn’t returned. With the coast still clear, she dropped the envelope and watched as both it and whatever it contained burned to ashes. As the flame continued to spread, it took with it the singular words written upon it…