The interior of the Inner Sanctum Lounge was strikingly reminiscent of a pub from the Middle Ages, with some modern flourishes here and there. Probably because that’s exactly what it was. The lounge had been around for hundreds of years, existing ever so slightly, outside the boundaries of time.
Hannibal Frost scanned the large room. He took note of everything he saw: Long bar at the back with three servers, walls to his left and right were lined with couches, and the middle was a sea of tables. A small stage was tucked into the back corner on his left, but no one was using it. Otherwise, the place was pleasantly packed. Just enough people- er, patrons- to get that soft, soothing background static. Frost had trouble making out faces. He was wearing a new pair of aviator shades that lacked all of Marcus’s fancy tech. He couldn’t help it, though. He was nervous.
Both Ashana and Frost had changed clothes before heading over to the lounge. Ashana was wearing her tackiest Christmas hoodie and a pair of black jeans. Hannibal was comfortable, as always, in his routine get-up: aviator shades, bull-hide cowboy hat, chocolate leather long-coat.
Nobody in the room seemed to notice their presence at all. At the most, a couple of heads turned to see the newcomers. It really was going to be as easy as just walking back to the office and signing the deed. Easy… right. But Roy did say that he’d understand everything by the time he signed it. Only one way to find out.
Frost looked over at Ashana.
Hannibal Frost: Well, let’s see what that old, senile bastard was talking about.
Ashana: You get real bitchy when you’re scared. Keep it together, man.
Ashana then nodded towards a door at the end of the bar.
Ashana: Management. Let’s go.
As Hannibal stepped in line to follow Ashana, only one thing was running through his mind: How badly am I going to fuck this up? He really had no idea what was going on, but still knew he’d fuck it up in some way. Jesus, he needed a cigarette, but of course, in true divine fashion, Frost immediately spotted a No Smoking sign. Ah, Shit…
It didn’t take long enough to reach the door. Ashana was already pulling out the key they got from Mr. Roy. She was… she was sliding it in. The heavy sound of the lock disengaging reverberated through Frost, forcing him to plant his feet against the mahogany floor. He watched as Ashana pushed the door open to reveal… a hallway.
Hallways weren’t generally threatening, but what awaited Hannibal at the end of this particular hallway was the most threatening thing of all: commitment. Still, he somehow managed to get his legs working before Ashana noticed, and together, they walked down to the door adorned with a simple tag that said ‘Manager”.
Of course the door opened on its own for them, and of course the deed was sitting right on the desk in the middle of the room. There was even a pen next to it. Already clicked… hopefully that mother fucker was dry.
Frost edged forward, taking in the room as he moved towards the deed. It was nothing special. Another, smaller desk sat against the wall to his right, and a few filing cabinets were collecting dust to his left. As he approached the desk with the deed, Hannibal couldn’t stop himself from feeling like this was a little anti-climactic.
Hannibal Frost: Is this all there is to it?
Ashana: I guess. Mr. Roy made it sound pretty simple.
Hannibal Frost: He also said that when I signed it, everything would become clear to me. I still have no idea what the jolly fuck is actually going on. How am I suppose to concentrate on HOW’s biggest event of the year with this in my lap?
???: We’ll make sure you’re ready for Iconic.
The sudden voice outta’ nowhere shook Frost so hard he popped his knee against the desk. Rubbing his knee with a tender furiosity, Hannibal whipped his gaze towards the door to find a young woman standing in the threshold. She looked a good five years younger than Ashana’s thirty-one, but the way she was dressed said she was ages more professional. A high waisted skirt and one button blazer gave her the aura of “I run this shit”. The tiny Santa Claus pin on her lapel showed she at least carried with her a little Christmas Spirit.
Still, the pain in Hannibal’s knee made him feel just a tad bit disrespectful.
Hannibal Frost: The next thing you say better be solid gold.
The young woman clicked forward on her short heels till she could shut the door behind her.
???: You must not know who I am. I’m the lounge.
Hannibal Frost: Yep, it’s finally happened. I’ve lost my mind.
The Lounge: Oh, shut up.
The Lounge walked past Frost and Ashana to take a seat on the other side of the desk. She motioned behind them as if telling them to take a seat, and where there was nothing before, two plush chairs now sat waiting for them.
As they hesitantly settled into their new seats, The Lounge flipped open a notepad, laid it atop the deed, and began speaking with what Frost now heard as a British accent.
The Lounge: Introductions, shall we? I’m Regina, and I’m a tangible representation of the sentience housed within the Inner Sanctum. I have the final say on everything- because I am the building, after all- so I’ll be the one conducting the interview today.
The Loun- Regina, looked expectantly across the desk, a bright smile lighting up her face. Hannibal nervously looked to Ashana, who only shrugged back at him. Okay…
Hannibal Frost: I’m Hannibal…
Regina looked like she expected more.
Regina: And you are…?
Hannibal hesitated before answering.
Hannibal Frost: Um… human?
Regina scribbled something on her notepad before looking back up at them.
Regina: Roy told me you’d say that. However, that is quite alright. The interview I have planned will answer all the important questions.
Regina flipped to another page in her notepad and cleared her throat.
Regina: For instance, question one: What was it like meeting Jatt Starr in person?
Hannibal Frost: What does that have to do with-
Regina: Please answer the question.
Hannibal Frost: He ignored me, cracked a joke at my expense, and let the security guard slam the door in my face.
Regina leaned forward, putting her elbows on the desk and propping her chin up with her fists.
Regina: Was it funnier in person? You have to tell me!
Frost furrowed his brow in genuine discomfort. He could feel a migraine coming on.
Hannibal Frost: You’re telling me that you, a sentient building, are a wrestling fan?
Regina: We’ve hosted plenty of our own shows here. We’ve also had TV’s since 1974. VCRs since ’79…
Hannibal Frost: Okay, I see where this is going. Let’s move it along.
Regina: We’ll you still haven’t answered question one…
Hannibal Frost: It sucked meeting him in person. He kinda’ hurt my feelings.
Regina: When he ignored you, or likened you to a shitty John Travolta movie?
Hannibal Frost: That was a good movie. Just what the hell is going on here? Therapy? You’re really taking the fun out of Christmas.
Regina: Question Two.
Regina said it pointedly, her eyes narrowed at Hannibal to make sure he got the point.
Regina: Have you, at any point in time, ever seen Mike Best in the nude?
Frost was simultaneously surprised and disgusted.
Hannibal Frost: What? No.
Regina: Zeb Martin?
Hannibal Frost: Also a no. Why does this matter?
Regina: Because they are extremely attractive men, and I’d like to know how big their dilly’s are.
Hannibal Frost: You are literally a building. This…
Frost pointed at Regina.
Hannibal Frost: Is probably just some kind of projection, or illusion.
Hannibal reached forward to pat Regina on the cheek, but recoiled immediately when his hand touched solid flesh.
Hannibal Frost: Well then, now we’re both creepy.
Regina: I want their dicks, Frosty the Snowblower.
Hannibal Frost: Okay, fine, you win. You’re the creepiest.
Regina rolled her eyes before shifting in her seat to face Ashana.
Regina: I have a single, two part question for you. Is this really what you want? If so, why?
Hannibal Frost: Hey, why does she get a real question?
They both ignored his complaint, but now Ashana had her hazel brown eyes on him.
Ashana: This is exactly what I want. Hanny, you’ve told me a thousand times that I make much smarter decisions than you. And I’m telling you that taking over this lounge is a good idea.
Regina: She’s not wrong. I practically run myself.
Ashana: I just have to know why you left. Why did you stop trusting me to do what’s best for us?
The question was so point blank his insides clenched. It fucking hurt.
Ashana: You somehow kept that a secret from Mr. Roy. That’s hard to do.
Hannibal had no problems with telling the truth. At least, that’s what he told himself. Doesn’t count for shit though when you hide things from the one person that matters most.
Hannibal Frost: Every time I find a good place in life, everything falls apart. And it does it with such a chaotic precision that it has to be a… curse, or hex, or fucking something. Something powerful that I can’t break. It’s the universe, and it’s telling me to go die alone in a corner.
Regina had a sudden, knowing look on her face. Ashana was looking at Frost the same way, but with far more heartbreak.
Regina: You’re so comfortable being miserable, that feeling happy is like, what? Alien to you, right? That’s a boot full of luggage if I’ve ever seen one.
Ashana: We could’ve talked through something like that, you know? Being happy shouldn’t be a concept that scares you.
Hannibal Frost: Well, I’m tired of fighting the universe for my slice of the god damn pie.
Ashana: Life is always going to be a fight. It just gets easier when you have someone fighting by your side.
That seemed to make a lot of sense, didn’t it?
Hannibal Frost: All right, fine. Truth time. This is my last shot at a wrestling career. Hunting the nasty fucks that go bump in the night, running this sanctuary for a dead geriatric I barely knew…
Ashana quickly shifted towards Regina to reassure her that Frost didn’t mean that.
Hannibal Frost: I just wanna’ fight.
Regina: And that’s what we want, too. While I am a fan of High Octane Wrestling, there was something else Roy saw while perusing visions of the future. In sixty-three percent of those possible futures, HOW goes on to create and inspire chaos that has a ripple effect through time.
Hannibal took a moment to digest what he was hearing.
Hannibal Frost: So, not only is HOW dangerous, but now I’ve gotta’ sacrifice fighting for fighting’s sake? That’s like… the only thing I wanted. Now it’s because duty calls.
Regina: No, the only duty you have is to be the person you intend to be. You’re a wrestler, you love testing yourself in the ring. And you know who’s worth fighting for. Violence itself won’t temper the chaos. You must make them face your truth.
Regina pulled the deed out from under her notepad and slid it to Hannibal.
Regina: Your truth… is that the world needs balance. Perfect harmony is a controlled chaos. You have the willpower to walk this line, and the strength to keep steady when the storm grows. Show them that the balance of controlled chaos is far superior to either one on its own.
Hannibal Frost: That’s the most Mace Windu shit I’ve ever heard.
Frost turned towards Ashana, his eyes alight with revelation.
Hannibal Frost: Mr. Roy… that crazy asshole was right!
In an excited flurry, Hannibal snatched away Regina’s pen and signed his name on the deed. He then slid it to Ash, but paused before pulling his hand away.
Hannibal Frost: Do you forgive me? Do you understand why I’m so stupid sometimes?
Ashana: Give me the damn deed. We’ve got alot to talk about later.
Ash was smiling as she took the deed from Frost. Of course, being the smarter one, she was opting to read everything first. He knew what this meant though, and inside… he was feeling it. His true Christmas Spirit…
The Inner Sanctum would be his new sanctuary, and all it wanted in return was for Frost to remember who he truly was. He was a fighter, and not a force of justice. No, just a being of good, who loved to test his shit in the squared circle. And if he happened to beat some folks into being better people along the way, well… isn’t that the true Spirit of Christmas?
Just a Short Epilogue …And Possibly A Short Battle Royal
The lounge only closed for three hours once every two weeks. Every bartender, waitress, and busboy was a tangible creation of the building, so they never needed to go home. Frost was using this time, and the staff, to do the smallest bit of redecorating. Still, he was down to just a few minutes before Opening.
Hannibal Frost: Just a little to the left! If I’m standing on the stage, I want Mace to be looking me right in the eyes.
Ashana, just off the stage below Frost, rolled her own eyes as Regina handed her a small stack of papers. Hannibal was now busy watching a painting go up on the wall above the bar.
Hannibal Frost: Please be careful with Mr. Gummer! Him and Mr. Windu have gone through enough shit!
Hannibal didn’t usually get bossy like this. He looked at Ash with a hearty grin.
Hannibal Frost: It’s fun because they’re not real.
Regina: The staff still have feelings.
Hannibal Frost: God damn it, now you tell me. Hey guys! Sorry about that! You’re doing a fantastic job!
She sternly interjected.
Ashana: As of this morning, there are still no new entrants into the battle royal at Iconic.
Hannibal Frost: Maybe we can slim it down to a fair fight?
Ashana: Well right now we’ve got you, Cancer Jiles, and Teddy Palmer. That’s almost as fair as it can get.
Frost nodded towards Regina.
Hannibal Frost: What’s your take on the battle royal?
Regina: The more the merrier. As long as you control the chaos, the balance will have your back. But, we only know of two entrants so far. Teddy Palmer is good, but good is where it stopped. He’s been gone for awhile though.
Hannibal Frost: I hope he kept training. I want Teddy at maximum power. He looks like he’ll give me a big hug when I beat him.
Regina cocked her head quizzically at Frost before continuing.
Regina: Cancer Jiles has tremendous talent and athletic ability. He’s also quite consistent. Consistently fifty-fifty. Why he chooses to squander such raw, genetic gifts is beyond me. It almost makes him unattractive… almost.
Hannibal Frost: I almost hate to beat somebody so good-lookin’… almost.
Ashana: You wanna’ say anything official to HOW one last time before Iconic?
Hannibal Frost: Nope. I’ll say something after I win. Oh, I’ll have to name that team. Any ideas?
But before they could offer up any, one of the staff members signaled that it was time to Open. Once the doors were activated, it didn’t take long for the space to fill up.
Hannibal Frost: Oh well, worry about it later. Ash, how about a sparring session over at Santo’s? I’ll show you my ankle lock!
Ashana shrugged, but still beckoned Frost on as she started for the Staff Only Exit in the back behind the bar. Frost, giddy with Holiday Spirit, began jogging off the stage after her, but paused to turn back to the growing number of patrons inside the bar. It was quite the eclectic group of… beings, and Frost couldn’t wait to get to know every single one.
Hannibal Frost: MERRY FUCKING CHRISTMAS EVERYBODY!!!
The room of warm souls returned the gesture in kind, raising their drinks and shouting their own seasonal salutations. Frost acknowledged them with a fist pump, before turning to Ashana and the Staff Only Exit.
Regina appeared behind them.
Regina: I’ll let you know if we get any more news concerning the battle royal. You sure you’re ready?
For the first time in years, Hannibal had finally tapped into the confidence that he used to have. With that, and the power of Christmas Spirit on his side, it didn’t matter who entered that battle royal. Frosty was bringin’ the mother fuckin’ snow.
Hannibal Frost: Every now and then I do forget… I was fuckin’ born ready.