It had been several weeks since ICONIC where Max’s lower face was mangled by High Flyer in an ultraviolent LSD Championship Match. This was after Max had been knocked off a roof into a literal dumpster fire where he was severely burnt across his body and his lungs were damaged by smoke inhalation. Before that he had been severely beaten by both High Flyer and MJF at Rumble at the Rock where he won his LSD Championship.
That was just the last few months.
Over Max’s long life he had been brutalized, broken down, stabbed, poisoned, electrocuted, sliced, had bones broken, teeth ripped from his mouth, been lit on fire multiple times, survived nearly drowning in the San Francisco Bay and left unconscious in a rowboat adrift in the Atlantic Ocean by Shane Reynolds. In short Max’s body, inside and out, had taken several lifetimes worth of punishment.
In order to cope with it Max had started with illegal drugs first then prescription. When he couldn’t ignore the pain anymore he would have the occasional surgery. A knee scoop here, an eye replacement there, a brace for his right knee then his left knee then his entire body. Max’s body also had begun to wither as he approached his fifties, his muscles became taunt and gnarled with painful knots. His face had started to lose weight, his eye sank further into the socket of his skull.
He could feel it.. His body was giving up. He hated it.
He raged at it in his mind with all of his other selves as they felt the very real touch of mortality slowly closing in on Maximillian Wilhelm Kael.
All the titles in the world couldn’t save Max from the very thing that his great Uncle Wilhelm Kael had spent decades trying to escape. The stench of death had started to waft into Max’s nostrils over the past few months and he’d been able to ignore it. But after his loss to Warrick?
After he’d realized how vulnerable he’d actually become?
Anger masked fear as he turned his rage outward into the world. His irrational hatred of Halitosis taking up Joe Bergman was little more than an obfuscation of the fear he couldn’t beat him. His visit to Sutler Kael was a desperate ploy hoping against hope that if he followed in the twisted footsteps of his Uncle he might actually be successful..
Fear affects other aspects of Max’s life. In this case Max had a portion of the living room of the Kael Estate in Arkham sealed off and transformed into a kind of Hyperbaric Chamber where he could rest comfortably. The air quality and mixture was controlled so that Max could be free of his mask, his lungs able to take in the air without causing intense pain and hemorrhaging.
He was seated on a long black couch with a pale oak coffee table stretched out in front of him, his lips and chin a gnarled mess of patchy, bruised flesh. His lips were pulled apart in a toothy sneer as his blue eye glared down at the pictures of both Halitosis and Joe Bergman including his wife.
His wife seemed nice. In another life Max might have kidnapped her and used her as leverage to throw Halitosis off his game.
It was work just trying to be comfortable for a few hours let alone going out and kidnapping someone.
There was a puzzle laid out in front of him, his mind going over his past matches with the man who would challenge him for his LSD Championship. It was the same man, same general idea with the absurd element of bad breath removed from it. That meant that, generally speaking, Max had already scouted him out, already worked out counters and weaknesses to be exploited.
And he’d beaten this man rather soundly the last time they faced each other. He knew it was possible but then again the last time they faced each other he hadn’t been through two hellacious matches as well as being chucked off a building into a fire. He was.. More then. That fear gnawed at his mind and chewed at his soul as he stared desperately down at the pictures.
“Are you… are you going to beat me?” Max said, his voice seemed weak and raspy, his lungs, even though they could take in the air still lacked the strength on their own for Max’s usual verbose tones.
There was a knock at the door which snapped Max’s attention away from the pictures in front of him.
The door opened as Captain Kun, dressed in his black North Kaelrean Uniform, stepped in and moved toward the long glass wall that seperated Max from the rest of the tainted air outside.
“General Kael, there is a visitor here to see you. She insisted on speaking with you and gave me this to show you, said it would explain who she was.” Kun said in an annoyed tone as he retrieved a small piece of paper from his pocket. He unfolded it carefully and then slapped it up against the glass for Max to see.
The High Octane Wrestling Hall of Famer stared at the paper for a moment as he tried to work out what exactly he was looking at. It looked like a silhouette of a person seated at a table, their face shrouded in darkness. Beneath it the words “Unnamed Backer” beneath it. A memory long since buried snapped back into Max’s mind as he suddenly remembered.
“Elenore..” Max wheezed turning his back to the Captain, his mind racing as to why she would be here, now. “Show her in but keep a guard at the door.”
“Sir.” Kun said as he snapped his heels together before marching away.
A hand slithered up to Max’s chin as his fingers tapped at the raw flesh. He winced at first forgetting about the damaged nature of his face but as pain was simply a part of Max’s life now he didn’t find any reason to stop.
Her voice cut through the air like a cold winter wind. He felt his face flush red as his muscle tensed, his endless supply of hate flaring up.
“Yes-yes, Cousin Indeed.” Max whispered as he turned. He wanted to scream at her, he wanted to snarl the words but he couldn’t, his body failed him. As he turned he did his best to smile, his sharped mental teeth poking through the grafted flesh of his lips.
Elenore stood before him, time having been no kinder to her thanks to Max. She was still beautiful but it was mostly a fasade. To Max, who knew her wounds intimately, he could see the deformed flesh beneath the layers of make-up where the fire had burnt her skin. While others would never have noticed he noticed the glass eye where her right had been before he’d taken it from her. He noticed her perfect teeth weren’t her original ones, just like him.
Just like him.
“I thought I’d stop by and see how you were doing.” Elenore said with not a small amount of sarcasm in her otherwise perfectly poised voice. She smoothed out the black and white dress she wore fiercely, a half smile pulled perfectly to the side.
“How do I look, Cousin Mine?” The Lord Supreme Dictator rasped while taking a step back from the glass, his arms stretched to either side. Max’s body seemed caged inside his full body brace, the muscle mass he once had considerably reduced. He had looked more pathetic in his life but not by much. “Do I look like a Champion?”
“No, you look like you’re dying, Cousin. Pity.” She hit the word pity with a particular venom which caused Max’s chest to burn.
“Fuck you, I don’t need your pity..” Max growled lowly as he stepped forward pounding his fist on the glass. The whole wall buckled, his eye growing wide as he realized the stupidity of his action. A full five seconds of silence stretched out as both Max and Elenore stared at the wall before the dark haired woman let a rather vindictive cackle escape her lips.
“Oh Cousin, I know you don’t but I give it to you anyway. You’ve always survived off it, why stop now? Anyway, I came here to talk about Sutler, I saw what you did to him. Tsk.” Elenore said in her low, seductive voice pacing back and forth in front of Max like a bored cat. “I decided to take him back off your hands again. And that little girl, John Sektor’s daughter? Yeah, the good news is though that my father isn’t alive anymore after, you know, you killed him. So that means I’ll actually be able to give him a life unlike you who will give them.. Well.. This?”
She gestured at Max and then at his surroundings.
“..No. NO! URAggh!” Max’s rage boiled over as he pushed the air from his lungs to raise his voice. Unfortunately noise also came with blood and pain, the former splattering on the glass and running down his chin. He clutched at his throat and fell to his knees but his hateful, baleful glare stayed locked on Elenore who simply beamed back at him with a cheshire smile. The loud noise did draw the guard who kicked in the door and stared in alarm at Max.
“No need to hurry, dear, I’m leaving. Your, uh, Lord Supreme Dictator is it? He looks a little worse for wear. You should probably fetch him a doctor.” She turned giving Max one last satisfied smile as she sauntered toward the door past the alarmed guard. “Just breathe Max.. breathe.. It’ll all be over soon.”
He hated her.
With all his heart and all his being he hated her.
And he was powerless as she walked away with both his adopted children.
The screen comes to life as Max stares at the camera, his mask removed with blood staining his chin. He looks sickly and unwell as his blue eye seems wet from tears. He runs a hand over his smooth head, much of the hair that once grew there burnt away leaving scar tissue behind.
“Joe Bergman.. Earlier this week I said some pretty unpleasant things about you. I said I hated you, that I hated how normal you were now, how you lost the best part about you. It is.. Possible.. That I was.. Wrong.”
Max sighs as he lets his head dip down for a moment before he looks back up at the screen with his intense blue eye, the metal eyepatch reflecting the light of the screen.
“I think perhaps I was envious of you, that you could just become normal. That you could take off your mouth, see a dentist and then your life just continues on. I can’t do that. I can’t take off my eye patch and magically have a new eye. I can’t just magically have bone to replace parts of my jaw. This is what I am now, I can’t not be this. I can’t not be Maximillian Wilhelm Kael. I’m stuck as this.. Thing, this wildly broken man.. You? I envy you..”
The LSD Championship is slowly pulled onto the screen as Max rests his chin on it.
“So that means that this is all I am. This is all there is for me, Joe Bergman, this is all I am going to ever have. High Octane Wrestling.. This LSD Championship.. My legacy in High Octane Wrestling? It’s everything that I am and if I lose it, if I stop being here.. I stop existing. I stop being real and then?.. I’m gone. Like I was never here.. That’s fucking terrifying.”
Max’s eye stares off into space as he rubs a tear from his eye.
“I can’t.. I can’t lose who I am. You.. you could kill me at Refueled, Joe Bergman. Literally you could kill me and not even realize it. This isn’t about the LBI now, Joe, this isn’t. Victory is a matter of consequence, I can’t lose Joe because if I lose it means I’m starting to fall out. It means it’s finally coming. That black rider.. Nobody outruns them forever.. But I can run for as long as I can, as hard as I can..”
His expression hardens as he looks back down at the screen, his lips pulling back into a snarl.
“I’ve gonna go through you. I’ve gotta go through Brenton Cross. Then, regardless if I move on I’ve got to win the match after that.. And after that.. And after that. No mercy.. No pulling back. Can’t afford to slow down.. Can’t lose this LSD Championship. Don’t you get it yet?”
Max’s fingers slip over the screen as he pulls it closer to himself. His eye widens as his pupil tightens into a small dot in a sea of cold blue. His heavy, raspy breathing fills up the audio.
“Halitosis you’re going to have to kill me to keep me down. You’re going to have to literally murder me because anything less to defeat me? That’s fucking death to me right now.. So if you want to beat me.. Kill me. Kill. Me. Cause that’s what I’m willing to do to keep this LSD Championship, to keep moving forward in the LBI and my career here in High Octane Wrestling. I’m Maximillian Wilhelm Kael, First of my Name..”
Max’s lip quivers for a moment as he pulls the screen away, drool and blood oozing down his lips.
“For as long as I May Maim.”