The Comeback of the Century

The Comeback of the Century

Posted on August 25, 2023 at 12:55 pm by Shane Reynolds

Mayday, mayday, the ship is slowly sinking
They think I’m crazy but they don’t know the feeling
They’re all around me circling like vultures
They wanna break me and wash away my colors…

*****

For three days and three nights, Shane Reynolds had sequestered himself in the area of the disused asylum he called home. Living up to his emo reputation, the move wasn’t dissimilar from an angsty teenager throwing a fit in his room. After returning from Chicago, no longer with the HOTV championship around his waist, Shane didn’t say a word for several hours. Nor did he let any food or water pass his lips. He merely sat eerily still and starred into the distance, as though at something that wasn’t there or simply a man haunted. Not even Riley had been able to coax him back to life.

“I have a surprise for you,” she purred into his ear, her lips purposely grazing the lope.

Shane did not so much as twitch, however. As more time passed, the hustle and bustle of the dining hall steadily dwindled until there was just Shane and the now-equally silent Riley next to him. Even she was about to take the hint, however, and depart when her master finally moved. Without a word, he simply pressed his hands onto one of the tables and pushed himself up.

“Can I get you anything?” Riley asked, as she did the same…

…but Shane offered no answer or response. He simply strode straight for the door and pushed it open. Riley was able to slip her petite frame through it before it closed, and quickly moved to lock step in time with Shane. She deduced quickly where he was coming and suddenly allowed hope to form that she could take his mind off the loss to John Sektor. That hope was extinguished like a candle in a hurricane, when they reached the door to his quarters.

“Nobody is permitted entry until further notice,” Shane asked, as he opened the door. “Understood?”

Riley merely nodded. At that point Shane disappeared from view behind the door. He didn’t slam it closed, but the act startled her and viciously struck at her chest all the same. Immediately, she heard the sound of a key turning in a lock, emphasizing how serious Shane was about his solitude. Less than a second later, a cacophony of destructive sounds followed as Shane cursed relentlessly while clearly smashing and tearing apart the contents of his room.

In the days since, Shane’s followers had taken shifts to hold vigil at the door. Intermittently, they would knock on the door and ask if he needed anything to eat or drink. Occasionally they would receive an answer in the form of a rock or metal song blasting out from beyond the wood. Or with more sounds of destruction indicative of Shane’s lingering rage and grief. But mostly they were met with silence. Once again, Riley had started to give hope – that their divine purpose was coming to an end – as her twelfth time on watch duty was nearing its end. That was when she heard the key once again in the lock. At least, she hoped she’d heard it. Such auditory hallucinations were partly why she’d been institutionalized in the first placed.

“Master?” Riley enquired, standing up from the chair and stretching out her aching back.

The door opened, confirming Shane’s emergence to be real – unless her hallucinations had grown equally visual in the last few days. He stepped out from the darkness beyond, raising his hand to shield his eyes from the seemingly blinding light. Riley knew that he had electricity in his room, but clearly, he had chosen to dwell in darkness the last few days. Whether that was by choice or because he’s smashed the lamps and bulbs to smithereens, she had no idea. Either way, he had done what he’d needed to and, hopefully, got it all out of his system. Although, Riley couldn’t help but think he was only emerging because staying a full forty days and forty nights wasn’t viable.

“Are you okay?” Riley asked, noting how dishevelled and frantic he looked, even still behind his mask.

“I let him win!” Shane blurted out, practically talking over Riley and ignoring her question.

“What?”

“Sektor,” Shane clarified. “I let him win!”

It was a lie of the most boldfaced variety. Shane knew it was a lie. Riley knew it was a lie. The whole world, had they heard those words from Shane’s lips, would have known it was a lie. Shane even suspected that he knew that Riley knew it was a lie. It mattered not. Shane’s deranged mind was already hard at work, reshaping reality as it saw fit, turning the lie into his own personal truth. By the time the next Chaos event rolled around, he would be once again undefeated and unbeatable – no matter what the official stats and all rational logic would insist.

“Oh!” Riley said, after a lengthy pause, dumbstruck and unable to find any other words. “Of course!”

She subtly glanced passed Shane and through the open door. The floor was awash with debris: glass and wood and plastic and even feathers from the torn open pillows. None of it was the mark of a man who had let his opponent win. But, as has always been the case, her master always got what he wanted – even a delusion to soothe his soul.

“I thought the HOTV championship was my destiny,” Shane continued, both what he was saying and walking along the corridor. Riley immediately fall in line at his right hand. “I thought that was set to be my path, my purpose, after finally crushing Bobbinette.”

“But it wasn’t?” Riley questioned, more and more seeing what direction things were headed. The notion made her smile but she kept it to herself.

“No!” Shane confirmed what she already knew. “The HOTV champion was an anchor around my neck, choking me and threatening to drag me down beneath the waves. No, holding a title that has to be defended weekly? That’s a young man’s game.”

“But—” Riley started…

…Shane cut her off. “No, despite what you are going to say, I’m not a young man. And Sektor isn’t either. So, I decided to let him have it. The title and all that entails. He can think he’s won gold to help him live up to his arrogant moniker. But, in actuality, he’s inherited a curse that’s going to wear and grind him down. And, when it finally has, that’s when I’m going to swoop him and make him tap again. Properly this time, without knowingly let my shoulders rest on the mat. When the time is right, I’m going to let the world see who the true gold standard is.

“And what now, in the meantime?”

“Now, I set my sights back to the lofty heights to which a wrestler of my status belongs,” Shane answered. “I figured when I finally was free of the HOTV championship, that my time in HOW would be done. I mean, I defeated Bobbinette, what else is there for me? Then it hit me, like an epiphany as the sun breached the horizon. The World Championship. I want…no, I need…to taste that glory again. Even if it’s for one final time. Especially if it’s for one final time. I have no illusions that this will be my last tenure in High Octane Wrestling…and I’m determined to go out with the ultimate bang. And there’ll be no bigger bang than chopping down the oak tree known as Stronk. By defeating him, I’ll position myself back at the top of the mountain and solidify the name Shane Reynolds as one of those belonging on the Mount Rushmore of HOW talent.”

Shane took a beat, knowing that he was running up against the one wall standing in his way.

“I just need to figure out how I’m going to get myself there. Hopefully, Lee Best will realize the sacrifice I made in giving the HOTV championship back to his Alliance. Hopefully, he’ll see what I gave Sektor as a gift, and he’ll reward me with a present in kind.”

It was then that Riley’s smile broadened, revealing more pearly white teeth as she was no longer able to contain herself. “I think he already has.”

Riley held up his iPhone, the screen on a web page she already had open. Shane snatched it the moment he saw the words ‘World’ and ‘Championship’. There was a narcissistic part of him that assumed he was already getting a shot at the HOW’s top title. A pang then struck at his heart when he saw the truth. It quickly passed, however, as he recognized this for the clear opportunity that it was. He paused for a good few months at the names of his opponents, his lips curling upwards with each one. They then contorted into an outright smirk as he saw the name Steve Solex.

“If not Lee Best,” Shane eventually muttered. “Then the universe.”

His smirk lingered as he shoved the phone back into Riley’s hands.

“Either way,” he continued. “I’ll be ready to accept it with open hands.”

“I knew you’d be pleased,” Riley replied, sliding the phone back into the pocket of her tight jeans.

“That’s an understatement,” Shane countered. “This is the chance to make the comeback of the century. In the wake of losing the HOTV title…”

Riley remained silently, even in the face of Shane contradicting himself about letting the HOTV title go willingly.

“…and in general,” Shane continued. “Think about it. Within a month of starting my last ever tenure in High Octane Wrestling, I win the HOTV championship, get justice for a betrayal that’s hung over me for nearly 20 years, and now have the chance to win the most coveted championship there is. Nay, I will win the World Championship. It’d be one of the all-time greatest comebacks of all-time, and nobody will ever again be able to look down on the name Shane Reynolds. I really will be the Platinum Standard I said I was going to be last week. Before I decided to let Sektor win, of course.”

“Of course,” Riley concurred with a nod. “Do you have anything in mind for strategies this week?”

“Well, Steve Solex needs to be the focus.”

Riley’s eyebrows furrowed at the unexpected notion. “Really?”

“He may be higher than all of us in the rankings, but he’s also lost the most matches,” Shane explained. “And one of those matches was to me. The week we squared off, I studied him right down to the most minute detail, from his history and style to each of his months and every single hair on that stupidly garish beard of his.”

Riley struggled to contain her smirk over a man wearing a creepy mask calling somebody else garish.

“I know Steve Solex inside out,” Shane carried on, oblivious. “That’s how I was able to take the HOTV championship from him. And that’s how I’ll be able to rub salt into the proverbial wound by taking a World Championship shot from him too.”

“Sounds like a plan!”

“That doesn’t mean I’ll be entirely ignoring Conor Fuse and…”

Shane paused, his mind suddenly going blank.

“…and what was his name again?”

“Charles De Lacy,” Riley informed him. “A 25-year veteran technician from England. Thinks he’s decided from ancient royalty.”

“Well, given their penchant for inbreeding, he probably is,” Shane argued. “Either way, get everything you can on him and Fuse. Just in case. Hopefully when I go after Solex, they’ll take the opportunity to focus on each other. And, in that distraction, I’ll put the fatal in ‘Fatal Fourway’ by taking out Solex once again. Better to be safe that sorry, however, in case I need to counter or best turn their finisher moves against them after they’ve executed by before they pin.”

“You mean, let them landing the final strike but then take the pinfall for yourself?”

“Exactly!”

Riley allowed herself to smirk now, loving the crude but devious brilliance of the idea. She could even picture it: Charles De Lacy delivering his patented ‘Daddy’s Decree’ and Shane hitting a flying splash on him as he bridges for the pin. Thus breaking the count and going for a pin of his own atop not one but two opponents. Preferably with Solex unconscious outright of the ring. Unbeknownst to either of them – not being mind-readers – Shane was imagining the same thing.

“This week is going to be unlike all others since I’ve returned,” Shane continued. “And that means I need to do what I’ve never done before.”

“What do you mean?” Riley asked, suddenly struck with confusion.

“I need to be a wrestler,” Shane answered, then elaborated before her eyebrows could once again twitch. “No interruptions. No insane dreams. No wild and outlandish detours that only connect loosely and thematically to the week’s match. Just straight forward training and sparring. Understood?”

Riley nodded. “Understood.”

“Good, we need to round everybody up our best three and have them learn every move in Solex, Fuse, and…”

“De Lacy!”

“…and De Lacy’s arsenal. Have them study their tapes and tactics. And even learn how their various styles could counter me. So that we can run through every eventuality, including how I can counter their counters. Given the stakes of the match, no stone can be left unturned.”

Riley again nodded, before turning to leave. Before she could even make it more than two steps, however, she felt Shane’s familiar grip on her wrist. He spun her back so that she was once again facing him. Though he was wearing his mask, she could see the smirk reach all the way up into his eye.

“But first,” he said, briefly disregarding his rule about no distractions. “What was that about you having a surprise for me?”

Riley smirked back at him now, pleased that he had heard and absorbed that which she had whispered into his ear three days ago. She replied by tugging his arm back and leading him through the corridors. When they finally stopped, she unlocked the door that stood in front of them. Behind it, Shane saw the woman Riley had been playing with last week. Her hands were restrained above her hand, as were he ankles to the floor. Around her bare feet were various tools and implements waiting to be used in a whole host of different ways.

“She’s been waiting for you,” Riley whispered, making clear that it was all consensual. “I thought I’d keep her ready, just in case you still hand some frustrations to shake off.”

Shane immediately stepped over the threshold into the room, as Riley opened the door wider to allow himself access. Shane kept his eyes on the blindfolded and gagged woman – thinking beyond the delusion to how he had lost the HOTV title. He was determined to replace it with one even more important and impressive. Regardless, there was some residual anger and hatred. And though his emotions often fuelled him, the logistics of a Fatal Fourway match called for a more cold, dispassionate approach. He needed to be a ruthless and efficient tactician if he was going to outmatch three whole other wrestlers. As such, this wasn’t a distraction. This was necessary.

“Close the door,” Shane commanded.

Riley immediately obeyed, pushing the door closed and locking it. As such, whatever happened in this room would stay in this room – with passers-by only able to rely on their imaginations. And the various screams and moans that would emanate from within.

*****

For three days and three nights, Shane Reynolds trained like he had never trained before. Each hour that he wasn’t sleeping had become a steady diet of exercise and training, training and exercise. Rinse and repeat. As the sun rose on a new Saturday morning, Shane was emerging from the end of a 10-mile run. If there had been anyone around, he no doubt would have received countless stares and odd looks. After all, he was dressed in shorts and a vest, which were accompanied contrastingly by his mask. His seemingly endless scars were also in full view, including a brand-new one. Extending from the crossed out ‘S’ of Steve Solex was the name STRONK – symbolizing Shane’s goal to earn the World Championship shot through the man from whom he’d taken the HOTV title.

Throughout each sparring and training session, Shane waited for all the aches and pains of tormenting injuries to kick back in. But despite the hundreds of pull-ups, his arms remained fine. For all the weights, his chest and shoulders felt fine. For all the sit-ups, his abs, hips, and back felt fine. Even for all the miles he’d ran and rowed and cycled, his legs felt not just fine but better than ever. That bode well for the Fatal Fourway match, where he’s spry agility could prove an advantage over the mere technicians. And even the playing field with the younger Conor Fuse.

Even as he jogged along the homestretch towards the steps towards the asylum, he came at it like Rocky Balboa. With ‘Eye of the Tiger’ playing uncharacteristically in his head, he dashed up the steps one, sometimes two, at a time. At the top, Riley was waiting with another of her homemade smoothies. Shane was blissfully unaware of her still micro-dosing him with morphine. Either that or it was yet another delusion he’s chosen to take as reality. Whatever the case, his diet had become a steady pattern of salads, protein, and smoothies for extra vitamins and minerals.

Every day he craved a return to pizza, but that could come once his hand was raised over the fallen bodies of Steve Solex, Conor Fuse, and…um…the other one. Or may even not until the World Championship was around his waist. As such, Riley’s smoothies had become a high point of his days. Before he could make it to this latest one, however, something pinched at his neck. His hand went straight to the area as his knees buckled and he stumbled at the step halfway between the top and bottom. He felt something protruding from the skin just beneath his hairline.

“What the fuck?” He managed to mutter before falling to one knee as a wave of dizziness washed over him.

No sooner had the words departed from his lips and his bare knee scraped concrete than he was falling. He tumbled head over heels, bouncing down the steps one, sometimes two, at a time. His view alternated between Riley’s wide-eyed, worried stare behind him and the glimpse of four figures in ski-masks ahead of him. They stood waiting to catch him in front of an open door to a van. As they did so, they took a limp each and hoisted him up. They wasted no time in tossing him inside and climbing in after him. The pain Shane had been waiting for wracked his body in that moment. Thankfully it was momentary, with Shane blacking out before they’d even slammed the door closed and started up the van’s engine.

When Shane finally awoke, it was not to city air or the usual stench that overwhelms the back of van. Instead, it was to scent of an oncoming fall, of dew-soaked leaves that rustled in the crisp air. The moment that smell hit his nostrils, and those sounds whispered their way into his ears, one word came to mind. As the memory of what had happened outside the asylum resurrected within his mind, that same word struck at the back of his mouth. As slowly opened his eyes – the lids of which felt somehow even heavier than the many weights he’d lifted recently – and saw the face of Blake smirking back at him, that same word exploded to life, as icy cold as the breeze it travelled on.

“NO!” Shane bellowed. “No, no, no, no, no!”

“Well, hello to you, too,” Blake replied, his smirk refusing to fade and Shane still not yet another enough to smack it away. “Is that any way to greet your new coach?”

Shane refused to acknowledge neither the question nor the idiocy of the scenario.

“I don’t have time for this,” Shane merely said. “I am done with all these types of shenanigans. I’m a wrestler. That’s it. Nothing else and nothing more. And I have a big match to prepare for.”

“Yes, yes,” Blake relented. “The fatal four way to decide the next number one contender to the World Championship. We are aware! And that’s exactly why you’re here.”

“You’re not going to stop me from winning!”

Blake’s smirk upgraded into a full-on, maniacal laugh that echoed through the trees that stretched endlessly in every direction. If Shane wasn’t both tired and angry and a card-carrying emo, he might have been unnerved. As things stood, he merely glared until Blake stopped.

“No, no, no,” Blake eventually said, crouching down to match Shane’s eye level and tilting in closer. “You misunderstand. As much fun as it was to watch John Sektor wipe the floor with you—”

“I let him win,” Shane argued.

“Of course, you did,” Blake mocked, before getting back to his interrupted train of thought. “As fun as that was to watch, we’ve entered a new phase now. And that phase needs you to win this Fatal Fourway.”

“What?”

Blake’s expression became a mirror of Shane’s own from moments before – serious and intense. He merely bore holes into blank holes already in Shane’s mask. The glare and expression at odds with the three-piece suit that was already out of place in the forest environment.

“You heard me,” Blake eventually said. “We need you to win.”

“Then why the fuck did you drug me and drag me from training?”

Blake scoffed, pushing on his knees and standing back up as he did so. “You call that training?” He scoffed again. “You call that sparring?” He scoffed a third and final time, before he suddenly began pacing back and forth in the clearing.

“What else would you call it?”

“THE PATHETIC INDULGENCE OF DESPERATE SYCOPHANTS!” Blake bellowed, the decibel level of his voice proving so loud that all the birds in the surrounding trees took flight. “They tell you merely want to hear and they do merely what they think you want them to. Even if they actually could prove to be fitting avatars for Steve Solex, Conor Fuse, and Charles De Lacy…

“Dean Gacy.”

It was Blake’s turn to ask “What?” as Shane’s interruption caught him off-guard.

“His name is Charles Wayne Gacy.”

Blake shook his head, completely dumbfounded. “It really isn’t, but that’s besides the point. Even if they were a proper match for them, they’d still be letting you win. As such, those sparring sessions are a complete waste of time. And that’s where we come in.”

As if on cue – and it probably was, knowing the theatricality of Blake’s organization – three figures emerged from the shadows beyond the treeline. One to the north, one to the east, and one to the west. Blake wasn’t entirely incorrect in his assessment. His followers were a far cry from the same height and weight of those he would soon be facing. These men, however, those looking nothing like them in their faces, were definitely regulars at whatever gym they were members of.

“Meet Steve,” Blake said, pointing to the man to the east, before moving in turn to the north and then the west. “Meet Conor… Meet Charles!”

Shane looked to them in turn as they waited patiently, the one representing Conor cracking his knuckles with eagerness. “Why are you doing this?”

“I told you, because we want you to win.”

“But why?”

Blake’s face once again became one of joy, extending from his lips and deep into his eyes. He had clearly been eagerly anticipating this question. He once again crouched down, having stopped pacing to look Shane once more in his remaining eye.

“Have you ever seen STRONK?”

“Once or twice,” Shane answered.

“I mean, in action?”

Shane tried to recall but then realised he hadn’t. He’d only caught the odd promo but nothing more. Until recently, he no real reason to. He had been focused on Bobbinette Carey and then the HOTV championship. Everything else would have been a distraction. And, besides, the idea of once again being a contender for the World Championship in this final competitive run of his career felt a pipedream. As such, Shane had not allowed himself to even consider it.

“I’ll take that as a no,” Blake said, interrupting Shane’s silent musings. “Well, for want of a better term, the man is a beast! Think The Mountain on Game of Thrones but if the Mountain on Game of Thrones was a hobbit. And that, right there, is why we want you to win the Fatal Fourway. Because if you defeat all three of the other contenders, you’ll have to face STRONK. And there’s no better opponent to deliver upon you the justice we seek. In short, if you get to step into the ring with STRONK, there’s no way you’ll be walking out in one piece. He is going to cripple you, and I’m going to be there to laugh and say, ‘Told you so.’ Then and only then, will we be satisfied.”

Blake stood back up for the final time, dusting off the shoulders of his suit jacket and the thighs of his pants. Holding his arms out to the side, he began walking backwards. At the same time, the three muscle-bound behemoths started approaching.

“But enough talk,” Blake continued.

“The only one that’s going to be laughing is me,” Shane countered as Blake reached the treeline.

“Time will tell,” Blake concluded, putting the final punctuation on the conversation before vanishing from view.

At the same time, Shane pushed him back up to his feet and eyed each of the three approaching men in turn. He shook his head.

“Wait just a minute,” he petitioned. “This isn’t how it would go. They wouldn’t all attack me.”

“They might!” The one representing Solex said.

“No, you guys have to attack each other two as well.”

“But that’s not what Blake said,” said the Fake Fuse, as they all suddenly looked at each other confused.

As they did, Shane took this as his opportunity and took off running. At the sound of twigs breaking beneath his feet, they turned back and saw Shane gone. Cursing their idiocy, they sprinted in pursuit the way they thought Shane gone. After a few moments, sinking deeper into the forest and with no sign of Shane, they opted to do the only wise thing they could think off. They split up…with Fauxlex going back west, Fuse continuing south, and the other one head back east. As a result, it was Fuse’s avatar that crossed into Shane’s path first.

Shane watched him wander warily beneath the tree he was currently perched in. Shane remained crouched, watching and waiting for him to hit the perfect mark. The moment he did, Shane jumped backwards, catching the branch as he fell, using the sudden motion to swing his legs out in front of him like the ends of a pendulum. Amid scouring each direction and checking each shadow, Fake Fuse turned when he heard the creak of the branch. He turned just in time to see Shane’s legs fly towards him but too late to halt them, they wrapped themselves around Fuse’s neck and Shane immediately whipped him into a hurricanrana. Sending Fuse sprawling, Shane rolled straight through and sprung back to his feet.

“So,” Shane said between breaths, allowing himself to get into the spirit of the deranged exercise. “You’re the one everyone thinks in the favorite to win the match.”

Shane had no idea whether the man heard him, the man he’d decided to call FF rather than think out his full fake name every time. In either case, the self-imposed reminder that he wasn’t the favorite to win filled him with the same rage as when he first learned it days ago. As he did, he tried to think of the perfect cap on this encounter and how best to make the point that he should be the odds-on favourite. With less losses and more points, it should be him.

The perfect notion came as he recalled Fuse’s penchant for stealing moves. No longer in the tree, he wasn’t in a position to go for the 450 Splash. Instead, Shane leapt forward and brought his foot down on FF’s head. Shane had never missed his boots more than he did in that motion. Stuck with running sneaks, Shane was force to head stomp him over and over again.

“One down, two to go,” Shane spat, before literally spitting on Fuse’s fallen avatar.

Shane barely had time to celebrate the victory – even if it was not over the real Fuse – before a figure came screaming out of the trees. The quick floored Shane with a shoulder block. He got up as quick as he could, just to be hit with a second. And, as he pushed himself up again, once more feeling the rage rising with him, Shane knew without looking that it was Fauxlex that he was dealing with. Turning around, the clothesline he anticipated was coming. He ducked under it and, grabbing his head, nailed the second avatar (not the movie) with a neckbreaker. Shane hopped up and went for a standing moonsault. Shane was met with nothing but dirt and fallen leaves. Her coughed as all the air was slammed out of his lungs.

“Well, you’re better than Fuse, at least,” Shane choked.

He had no idea how right he was, but he learned after he slowly pushed himself back to his feet. Turning to where Fauxlex had been predatorily stood, Shane was tugged forward by his head, as the man Solexecution. He even came within a few seconds when instinct and muscle memory took over. With memories of their previous match flooding his mind, Shane countered it the same way as he did before – landing The Original Sin. Without thinking Shane immediately went for the pin, even hooking the leg. He then started counting out loud as though this was in some way official.

“One…Two,” Shane said, his chest heaving with each number…

…He never made it to three, however, as a huge boot came suddenly down on the back of his head. The strike sent gold stars and black dots dancing across his vision. Regardless, he had a situational awareness born from years of experience and rolled out of the way of the second, with got Fauxlex in the junk. He groaned and rolled onto his side, cupping himself.

“Technically, you would have already lost when I pinned him,” Shane breathlessly pointed out, indicating to FF. “But at least you are getting it.”

Shane continued to shuffle backwards on the ground as the last contestant in this ridiculous forest match stalked towards Shane. Of course, it would be the one he kept forgetting the name of and overlooking. That would be just like fate, Shane thought to himself, to have me lose to the one I don’t expect to. Whether or not he would heed that lesson would be decided later, however. For now, he just needed to take his avatar down first and get home.

The fake De Lacy, who Shane still kept thinking was Gacy, got bored of the preamble and rushed right in. Jumping through the air, he went for a diving knee drop. Shane may not fully remember the man but he’d memorized the move set perfectly. Changing direction, he rolled sideways and out of its trajectory. He didn’t so much as groan as he met nothing but ground. He did more than that, however, when Shane struck back with the first move that came to mind. Taking a leaf from the pain of the still grounded Fauxlex, Shane stomped the bottom of his foot between his final attacker’s legs.

“No fair!” he managed to squeal between dropping to his knees clutching at his crown jewels.

The man was right, it wasn’t a fair or legal move. But this was High Octane Wrestling they were talking about. If the years had taught Shane anything, it was that all was fair in love and championships. And that went for the World Championship more than any other. In order to be the number one contender – and even take the title from STRONK – there was nothing that Shane wouldn’t do. Whether it was indulging a bizarre brawl in the woods, going for as many low blows as needed, breaking bones, secretly using weapons, or worse. He’d do anything, or even all of them, in order to fill that championship around his waist again.

“Oh well,” Shane eventually said with a shrug.

He then lunged at the man and quickly locked in The Broken Wing. He wrenched hard, threatening to dislocate or tear clean off his arm. Like a true wrestler, De Lacy’s avatar tries to hold out for as long as he can. Unfortunately, it’s not that long, as Shane wrenched and wrenched without mercy, forcing him to tap out. Shane didn’t immediately let go, finding himself once again in the moment he made Sektor tap – to no real effect. He wrenched again, but came back to reality as the tapping stopped. Shane broke the hold, realizing that the man had passed out when he slumped to the floor.

“Well, that was fun,” Shane mutters sarcastically, slowly catching his breath as he looks around at them all.

Expecting Blake or somebody to emerge, he was left wanting as nobody did. Shane sighed. Though the actual match wouldn’t be anything like that – and would be much more difficult – he was still somewhat, surprisingly, grateful. There were clearly lessons he’d needed to learn and that he wouldn’t have learned from his followers.

“De Lacy,” Shane said, emphasizing that fact, the name finally sinking in, never to be forgotten or overlooked or underestimated again. “De Lacy!”

The most notable among the lessons, however, was that he actually wanted to be the World Champion again. He thought that he had come back solely for Bobbinette Carey. Then he thought that the HOTV championship was a burden, one preventing him from retiring. But since losing it, he’d realized that there was another void inside him. A void that, he knew now, could only be filled by being the one to finally topple STRONK, become World Champion, and seeing his name in the uppermost echelons of High Octane Wrestling.

“No more nonsense,” Shane spat, reiterating his own point from earlier. “Starting now!”

On that note, Shane limped his first steps back north, towards the trees waiting there. Even though it was playing right into Blake’s hands, Shane didn’t care. Even though it may indeed all end with STRONK being the Bane to his Batman, and leaving him a crippled mess, he didn’t care. As he began the long walk home, he was surer than ever that he deserved to win the Fatal Fourway and be the number one contender…