October 4, 2023
Osaka Prefecture, Japan.
A cool, stiff breeze is whistling through the trees as Dan Ryan walks down a winding Nishinomaru Garden path. On either side are towering cherry blossom trees, the pink flower petals fluttering to the ground and making the surrounding grass look like cotton candy.
Beyond is Osaka Castle. Being the middle of the work day, the grounds are quiet, save for a few scattered visitors to the shrine.
Dan is dressed in a thick wool trench coat, the collar turns up to protect against the cold. A golden shaft of light reflects off of his sunglasses and the small bluetooth bud in his right ear.
“Hey, I’m here, the plane landed an hour ago…”
He stuffs his hands into his pockets as he walks past a young couple sitting on a park bench.
“No, I decided to walk. It’s not that far away, and I didn’t want to take any risks. This is too important. If it were known that I was here to handle this personally, it could be a problem…”
Walking around a wooden gazebo, he looks up ahead and spies the short path toward a cluster of buildings on the edge of the city. He glances at the time on his smart watch and picks up the pace.
“Lee has some business back in the states he’d like me to take care of, so I’ll be on the first plane out tomorrow morning. You don’t keep GOD waiting…”
Turning down the path, he walks in the direction of a large sign with markings directing visitors to the various sections of the grounds. He follows one marked with the Japanese Kanji for the word “Shrine”…
“Thanks. Let me know when you get home. Later…”
He listens to make sure the call is disconnected, then reaches up and pull the earbud from his ear.
Here on the Eastern side of the Castle shrine is a wooden structure, about fifteen feet tall, with ornate carvings set into the trim around the roof. The roof itself rises into a point with an ornamental golden ball on a short spire. A large wooden door, painted a golden color, is set into the front porch of the structure, where columns and knee high statues of lions on either side.
Dan walks up the four concrete steps to the door and waits. After a moment, he knocks on the door three times. After another moment, a small slat in the door slides open and the upper portion of a man’s face looks out. Dan pulls his phone out. In the back of the leather cover is a card with the Japanese characters for “God”. He holds it up and the man inside flashes with recognition. He quickly closes the slat and the door opens. A middle aged man stands just inside the door, standing just above five foot six inches. He gives a curt bow to the visitor, and Dan returns the gesture. Stepping aside, the man waves him inside.
Dan reaches up as he walks inside and takes the sunglasses off of his face and squints as his eyes become acclimated to the much darker interior. The inside of the structure looks to be fifteen to twenty feet wide and twenty to twenty five feet deep. Around ten feet ahead one each of the side walls, a half wall with an opaque screen stretches toward the center of the room without meeting in the middle, leaving an open door-like space.
In the room beyond that point, Dan sees another Japanese gentleman sitting cross-legged on the floor facing the back wall, where there is a large canvas with Japanese lettering on it. Dan walks slowly in his direction, taking care not to make much noise.
“You were not expected. Expected one of your associates.”
Dan glances at the first man, then back at the man on the floor.
“You knew my father for many years. You worked beside him. You helped him with his business and you helped ingratiate him into the culture. You were a big reason why the dojo was successful and thus, a big reason why I was able to become the man that I became.”
“And what,” the man replies without turning around. “What exactly is it that you have become? Hmm? Daughter not speaking to you. Wife asking you to stay away. Is this what I’m responsible for? Helping you to become a disappointment?”
The words sting, but Dan pushes them away, walking further into the room and to the side where he can see the old man’s face, but the old man does not look up. Dan squats down next to him, then falls forward onto both knees so that he is at eye level.
“I lost myself. I let selfishness turn me into a coward, a cheat, a failure. I’m working my way back, but there is still more that is missing. That’s why I’m here. That’s why I came to see you myself instead of sending someone for you. I want to look you in the eye and ask, humbly for you to come back with me and train me again.”
Finally the old man’s eyes open and he turns and looks at the big Texan. “I understand. You want to become dangerous again, lethal and sudden, deadly. This is what I want.”
“You are already all of these things,” the man says. “You have simply lost the confidence in yourself. You were never great because you were big or lethal or dangerous. You were great because you believed you were big and lethal and dangerous. You believed you were the toughest man in the room, and it led you where you wanted to go. How, exactly… did you lose this? How did my most prized student forget who he was? Hmm?”
Dan sighs, shaking his head.
“Weakness. A very specific weakness. My first born daughter died over twenty years ago now. I was so young and headstrong, I was ambitious and single minded, and I was a horrible father. It was a failure I did not anticipate, and the trauma of her loss fueled the birth of a monster inside of me. I took all of my anger, all of my hate, all of my aggression, and I channeled it into the ring. And it worked. It made me one of the most successful wrestlers of my generation. I inspired possibly the greatest wrestler of this generation. Mike is here, practically unbeatable, because of that man I was, not because of the man I am. The man I am is broken down, tired, running on fumes, pushing as hard as I can but coming up short. I’ve lost my edge. I need you to help me find it again.”
“You are very confused,” the old man says. “It was not the spirit of your first child you were fighting against, it was the spirit of your second child that you were fighting for. She gave you something to fight for, because of what you had done to yourself. I helped to make you strong, trained you to be smart, psychologically powerful, all of the things that a man needs to survive, to thrive. But what you did with it, that was always inside of you. I cannot give you back an edge that I did not give to you in the first place. Your daughter, she is your center, not me. You have lost your way with her because of extreme self-interest. And you will never be whole until you have resolved your relationship with her.”
Dan stays quiet for a moment, looking down, then he looks back up.
“And if she isn’t willing?”
The old man smiles slightly.
“Never know until you try. She is here in Japan, yes?”
Dan nods. “She is. I think Lindsay helped her get work over here. I’m not sure, but I think that’s what happened.”
A hand reaches out. The old man places a hand on his shoulder. “You will seek her out. It is the only way you can become yourself again. You must fix what you have broken. The alternative means withering away, forgotten and alone.”
An unexpected sensation shot through Dan Ryan’s spine. It is a foreign emotion, something he had fought to control. Fear. In a flash it is gone, but it shakes him, and he squeezes his eyes shut, trying to push the images in his mind away… an empty house… and empty room… himself, alone…
Finally he stands up, sighing deeply.
“Thank you. I have responsibilities, obligations back in the states, but I’ll be back very soon, and when I come back, I will seek her out. Perhaps now is the perfect time to right some wrongs.”
The old man stands up and a slight smile plays at the corners of his mouth. He bows, and Dan bows himself, then turns and walks away, going through the big golden wood door, putting his sunglasses on, and disappearing into the light.
Here we go, the age old tradition of the go-home tag team match.
I appreciate it when good traditions are kept alive. There is, after all, a big show to promote. There are tickets to sell. And that’s our job here this week, isn’t it boys? To make these fans want to shell out some hard earned money to watch us tear each other apart in a few weeks?
There’s been so much bait spread out in front of me lately, and the truth is, I have no actual interest in engaging in any of it. I’m super glad that you, Evan and you Rhys, are so pumped about these matches you’ve won lately, with nothing on the line and nothing to fight for… after the PPV matches were already announced. I’m glad that you’re so psyched Evan about that win you got over me, which actually earned you nothing, and then ultimately, you ended up dumped on your neck at the end of the show anyway. You got your little win, congratulations, and I stuck you head first into the floor. I don’t know, I kinda felt like a winner after that. How did you feel?
Mike mentioned something, so I’m gonna mention it too.
This should be… could be… the kind of match that millions of fans around the world would pay to see. Rhys Townsend and Evan Ward… hall of farmers, former World Champions… again myself, who, despite your complete ignorance on the subject, has one of the most impressive all around resumes in our sport… and Michael Lee Best, who is the greatest professional wrestler of this generation, a record holder, an absolute all time great.
But alas, this is the go-home show, and it is not our job to tear the roof down.
No, my goal this week is simple.
To wear you down, Rhys Townsend.
No games, no tricks. I intend to do whatever it takes to make you incapable of standing on your own two feet when we face each other at In GOD’s House. Mike may wants a strong, healthy opponent, but I don’t give a flying fuck. Mike wants no one to have any excuses when he wins in Miami in two weeks, but I only care about winning.
If there’s some way I can find an advantage, I promise you I will do it. Whatever it takes, Rhys. And I’m right here, completely honest, telling you right to your face. You don’t have to wonder what I’m up to.
What I’m up to is, to put you and your taco business out of your fucking misery, and then, after I defeat you at In GOD’s House, go and win the High Octane World Championship. No sleight of hand, no mirrors. Evan can do what he wants, say what he wants, and Mike can have his fun.
But I’m gonna have mine.
You don’t have to like me and you don’t have to respect me. I can bash your brains in with my bare hands either way. You haven’t seen anywhere near the best of me yet, man. Not even close. But it’s coming.
Not here, not this week. This is just the band warming up. This is me setting the stage. And this is you, fretting your hour upon it, soon to be heard no more, a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.
You’ll be gone before we know it. But I will never, ever leave. My loyalty is absolute. High Octane Wrestling is woven into the very fabric of my being. There is only one GOD, and I will be the weapon that destroys whoever opposes him. You like that? Nice and melodramatic? Good. Take it to heart.
I look forward to your eloquent rebuttal as always.
Save me a taco.
I like the one with cilantro.