BK. 2, CH. 01 – Like Blood From a Stone (Καλημέρα)

By: James Raven

Writing Prompt: Yes

Date: 26th Jan 2022

PRELUDE
“ONCE UPON A TIME…”
WELSH LAKE, ONTARIO, CANADA

TWENTY YEARS AGO

He clings desperately to her hand as every muscle in her body strains to support his weight. He can feel his fingers slipping, and so can she. A primal roar escapes from his lips and she loses her grip and he feels himself start to plummet from the top of the tower. He looks up at her one last time, a stolen glance at his gypsy princess. That’s when he feels the powerful arms underneath him, fired from a window of the tower to catch him and quickly pull him back inside to safety. Esmeralda rushes down the stairs with terror in her eyes, but breathes a sigh of relief when she sees Captain Phoebus awaiting her with the hunchback safe at his side. The trio celebrate, making their way to the streets of France where they’re cheered by the civilians and “the monster” is finally hoisted upon their shoulders to be revered as the hero he’s always been. Song fills the city streets.

“And Frollo gave the child a cruel name
A name that means half-formed
Quasimodooooo!”

“Now here is a riddle to guess if you can
Sing the bells of Notre Dame
Who is the monster and who is the man?
Sing the bells bells bells bells bells bells bells bells
Bells of Notre Dame!”

The movie ends, film credits beginning to roll up the screen as the three siblings lay scattered across the basement of their family cottage. Rachel Raven lays on her stomach on the floor, wide-eyed and smiling as the Disney magic lingers in her mind and her hand paws absently at the outdated shag carpeting underneath her. Her oldest brother TJ is in the far corner of the room, clicking away at a desktop computer as he rolls his eyes at her.

TJ
You’ve seen these movies a hundred times, Rach. Please… PLEASE… pick something else.

RACHEL
These movies are fantastic. It’s not my fault you don’t appreciate them.

The middle child, James, lays sprawled out on the couch and flips absently through a comic book while occasionally glancing up out of the nearby window and surveying the lake for any sign of their fathers’ boat.

RACHEL
How can you not like Disney? You don’t like the songs? You don’t wish you could talk to animals? Don’t tell me that neither of you would be brave enough to rescue a beautiful princess… IF she needed saving, of course.

TJ scoffs from the corner but says nothing as he continues to click away at the computer, eyes locked on the screen. Rachel turns to James for support; their usual dynamic.

RACHEL
Back me up. You like these movies too, right? You can relate to the stories.

That piques TJ’s interest.

TJ
Yeah, James. Which princess are you; Belle or Ariel?

JAMES
Shut up.

TJ
Maybe you’re Aurora from Sleeping Beauty. Your entire story happens while you’re sleeping, and then some dude kisses you and you live happily ever after! Ha HA!

Rachel sits up off the floor and reaches for a throw pillow on the nearby armchair. She hurls it across the living room, but TJ easily ducks to the side and it sails harmlessly over his head.

RACHEL
Hey! You know all the princesses’ names! I knew you liked the movies!

TJ shrugs his shoulders and smirks as Rachel turns to James, her expression softening. James had always had a soft spot for his little sister. She was so optimistic, so kind. She wasn’t like the rest of them yet…

RACHEL
Come on, James. Which princess are you? We’ll watch that next.

He sighs.

JAMES
Cinderella.

She studies him thoughtfully.

RACHEL
I can see that. Hard working and industrious. You get things done, and you’re willing to pick up the slack for others.

He doesn’t explain to her that Cinderella is a doormat. A people pleaser. Someone waiting for some magical change of fortune to happen to her, instead of taking action into her own hands and actually accomplishing something. There was no grand adventure for Cinderella, just the soul crushing pressure of trying to make things perfect for everyone else through a miserable daily monotony.

Pick a movie, CindeRaven.

Wash the floors, CindeRaven.

Make dad proud, CindeRaven.

RACHEL
Plus, she was the first Disney princess with siblings.

TJ
Her sisters were fucking twats.

RACHEL
Language! He’s not saying it’s a perfect comparison, right James?

Bite your tongue, CindeRaven.

RACHEL
I don’t think that fits you. We can do better.

JAMES
Sure.

Keep them happy, CindeRaven…

FADE OUT


A familiar YouTube wheel spins slowly on the screen, hypnotic as a video buffers and begins to play. Two small children sit at a playroom table, battling with their favorite FIGHT! branded action figures. One uses his special edition season 2 James Raven to pin a particularly beige looking Dane Preston toy.

“Hey there, kids!”

The two children look towards the voice calling them from off screen, their faces lighting up.

“Wow!”

“The People’s G.O.A.T.!”

James Raven steps into the shot, clad in a designer suit and dressed head to toe in black. He grins widely at the two children, flashing a thumbs up to the one with the Raven figurine before flashing a subtle middle finger to the Dane Preston fan.

“You didn’t think FIGHT! Toys would let a new season start without putting out some new products to milk your parents of their hard earned salaries for, did ya?”

“No way!”

“Of course not! Corporate greed ruins everything that’s good in this world!”

He laughs and claps his hands gleefully, eyes shimmering as the kids clap and laugh along with him despite being blissfully unaware of what he’s talking about.

“So I’m back to show you our brand new line; since the season one Sahara blow up doll is no longer available. I’m pretty sure Thaddeus Duke bought them out of stock, just so he could put one in each room of all of his homes, and always have someone to ask if he’s allowed to fuck Ashlynn Cassidy. First up, I present to you the Eoin O’Rourke action figure!”

The camera cuts away to an empty display pedestal, remaining there for several seconds before cutting back to a slightly uncomfortable James Raven.

“Look, he exists, I swear… we just haven’t seen him for a while. He’s got to be kicking around here somewhere, or else FIGHT! would take him off the roster and stop making people like me promote him, right? Anyways, buy the figurine and if he actually turns up again, BOOM you can have ‘em. Moving on; our second item is a beautiful blue Lycana wig. Now you too can look like Lycana as you-“

“Who is Lycana?”

“Uh, well… that’s true, I guess she hasn’t really done much to make herself stand out here. How about this? It’s a Tara Fenix wig! Or a Jynxie Jennie! Or maybe a Druscilla? Could probably pass for a Vhodka variant if you braid it up all cool or something… It’s a blue wig at the end of the day guys. Take it or leave it.”

The two children look at each other and shrug their shoulders.

“Not your style? Well how about a Mario Vontez Porter hype kit?! It’s got foam abs to strap on, a fake watch and an adhesive soul patch so you too can look like the coolest guy on the local high school basketball team. Plus, an elaborate back story about a murdered lover that’s not actually dead that people will be FORCED to deal with because they’re trapped on a fucking boat! HA! With all of this you’ll be able to pull an MVP, promoting a debut that still hasn’t happened months later and just sort of lingering around as part of the family now despite never actually doing anything.”

The two children are beginning to look very disinterested now. James frowns. This isn’t going quite as well as the toy unveiling at the beginning of last season did. Maybe they want something they can play together? Well, he’s got just the item!

James points to the table, and the film suddenly jump cuts ahead. James is standing in the same pose, but about eight inches to the right, and now a giant Jenga tower sits between the two kids.

“How about your very own FIGHT! Tower! Can you keep stacking until there are no more blocks to move, and reach Ascension?”

The two kids begin quickly pulling blocks from the tower and stacking them on top, trying not to let the structure fall. Suddenly, the entire thing explodes and sends blocks flying everywhere. One block strikes a child in the eye.

“NOPE! You can’t! Because before you reach your goals, someone will just blow the whole fucking thing up on ya! Sorry, were you still playing with that? SO WAS I! Sucks, doesn’t it! Don’t worry, maybe your parents will take you to FUCKING DISNEY OR SOMETHING and tell you that you have to FIGHT ALL OF YOUR FUCKING FRIENDS OR SOMETHING. I don’t know. That’s just a guess…”

Red faced and sweating, Raven takes a deep breath to compose himself. One child sits frozen while the other holds his eye and cries softly in his seat.

“Sorry. I think it’s time to introduce this seasons final product. Kids, why don’t you go get ALL of your FIGHT! Toys and bring them out here?”

The kids don’t move.

“I said get your fucking toys!”

The camera jumps cuts ahead again, and now a mountain of FIGHT! figurines and accessories sits on the table. We can see ‘Easily Eliminated Michelle’ and a ‘draw whatever face you want on Brandon Moore, he doesn’t care’ doll. We see a Dickie Watson Empire Championship, and of course the season two James Raven toy.

James smiles, then pulls a small container of lighter fluid and a zippo from his pocket. He beams into the camera.

“We call this little number, ‘The TJ’.”

He looks at the pile of figurines, then very delicately removes an Atara Themis from the top and cradles it safely. He douses the rest of the pile in lighter fluid, and with the kids staring on silently sets it all ablaze.

“Welcome to season three.”

He laughs maniacally.

The commercial ends.

BOOK TWO: Καλημέρα
CHAPTER
ONE:
Like Blood From a Stone

“GREEK SALAD”

BROOKLYN, NEW YORK, UNITED STATES

THREE WEEKS AGO

She was beautiful.

If it was supposed to be a secret, it was not a very well kept one.

It had never been lost on him, even if he didn’t fawn as openly as others or oogle her blatantly every time their paths crossed. She was Aphrodite Incarnate, and not even the G.O.A.T. was fully immune to her allure. He could bite his tongue, though. He could see her as a friend and a trusted ally, respect the relationships of others and bury thoughts of anything more between them away… never to be revisited.

Yes, she was beautiful. He focused on other things when he looked at her, though.

There was a warmth in her smile that calmed him, easing his mind and making him comfortable wherever they were. There was a softness in her eyes that felt reserved for only him, a secret that she was trusting him with between the gentle batting of her eyelashes. He looked at her and saw a fountain of greatness and a reservoir of potential. He believed in her without a lingering doubt, and she believed in him. He could feel it in the fibers of every muscle whenever they had touched.

She was a much needed rock when he was stranded in a stormy sea.

ATARA
Are you alright?

JAMES
Yeah. Sorry. I was just daydreaming, I guess.

He digs absently at the salad bowl in front of him, fork spearing several pieces of lettuce before he scrapes them off the tongs and sets the utensil down.

ATARA
Give voice to your thoughts, dove.

He didn’t know where to begin. He had been trying to get her attention for the better part of a week, and he had begun to spiral after the loss* at Countdown and into New Years when she was otherwise occupied. His blood had been boiling and his vision had been clouded. He had thought of everything he wanted to say to her, everything he wanted to let out about everyone else, and everything he wanted to do. Now here they finally were, and… nothing. The rage had simmered to frustration, disappointment, and straight up loneliness.

Now, he was just happy to sit with her.

“What’s the point of this?”

“Stop it, TJ.”

“No. Seriously. I thought we were coming here for something WAY more extreme than this. You’re telling me ‘Greek Salad’ wasn’t some sort of euphemism? This is fucking pathetic, dude…”

James shakes his head, trying to ignore the nagging of his co-pilot. TJ couldn’t understand the need to confide. He had never trusted anyone. That wasn’t James’ fault.

He glances at the goddess as she slowly bites an oil soaked olive from the tip of her fork. Her eyes meet his, and she giggles softly as he smirks and looks away. She had always been there for him. She had never once turned her back or asked for anything in return. He fishes a feta smothered tomato from his own bowl and pops it into his mouth, then sneaks another glance at her.

“Say something, James. If you don’t tell her what you’re thinking, then you’re just wasting everybody’s time. Just blurt it ou-“

JAMES
I’m not happy, Atty.

She says nothing.

JAMES
I’m not happy, and I don’t know what I’m doing anymore.

She eyes him carefully, taking a long moment to chew another bite of her salad.

ATARA
Sorry, but you can’t just stop there. I need a little bit more to work with.

James sits quietly, sipping from his water glass to stop himself from allowing his innermost thoughts to spill from his lips. He shouldn’t be talking to people about this sort of stuff, least of all her. This was the sort of thing that needed to be worked out with Shawn, and Dickie, and Betsy. None of them were going to be thrilled that he was here, spilling secrets to the one person they were always worried he’d spill secrets to.

“Tell her that you’re seeing NSQ for what it is, James. Tell her that they’re the poison I’ve always warned you about! Tell her about how they left you holding the bag at Countdown, because they all had better things to do or couldn’t be bothered to show up to the event at all. Tell her about how dark New Years was for you as you tried to swallow a loss to Brandon fucking Moore, and how each and every one of your friends ignored you and went out to celebrate their own victories while you pined away for someone like Atty to come clean up your wounds for you.”

“Do you ever stop?”

“Please. We’re just getting started. Come on! You wanted to come see this girl, make it count. Tell her all the dirty thoughts you had about her, or I will.”

James fidgets uncomfortably in his seat. He tries to stifle the voice in his head, navigating his next words carefully.

JAMES
I’m just starting to feel like the last couple of years are starting to blend together. Apex, Prophecy, Legacy, NSQ… There’s always some group around me, more concerned with themselves than with anything I want to do on my own. I bite my tongue and I swallow my pride, and I do everything I can to help them succeed, but I’m tired of sitting in everyone else’s shadows. GCWA, OCW, Project: Honor, XWF… I’ve always let everyone else chase the championships, bathe in the spotlight, be the Tyrant… why? Why be a good little soldier for someone else’s cause?

“Because you’re a fucking doormat, James. A deferential people pleaser who willingly stuck himself into the tag-team corner of ALL of those companies, with ALL of those teams, because he wanted to keep his friends happy and not confront them with the fact that he was BETTER THAN THEM AND ALWAYS HAD BEEN!”

Atara listens closely, waiting for him to dig into the deeper layers of his distress. Eventually she needs to probe.

ATARA
Have you talked to them? Honestly and explicitly? Subtweets and vague moping can only get you so far… sometimes you actually have to repair the relationship…

JAMES
What relationship is there to repair? Dickie and Aiden never gave a shit about whether or not I was a part of their lives or fulfilled with what we’re doing, it was always professional for them. Kasey and I hardly know each other. Shawn essentially killed off our tag team and put all of wrestling on the back burner to run off to some beach in Mexico, and Betsy? She might be the hardest of all to get through to. She just gets so FUCKING blinded by her own ambition sometimes. If she could just take a day to enjoy where she’s at instead of constantly looking for the next championship, or tag team partner, or company to conquer. I’m sick of being expected to wait at home patently for her to return from whatever timeline or galaxy or parties with all her doting fucking male friends…

Atara stands up slowly, crossing from her seat to the seat next to his and placing a hand lightly on his shoulder. He takes a deep breath, leaning ever so slightly into her touch.

JAMES
Sorry. Too much?

She shakes her head, her hand slowly moving to rub his bicep as she listens intently.

ATARA
Shush. You know I’ll listen to anything you want to tell me. Nothing is too much. I can understand wanting to get out from the shadows of others’, and not wanting to feel like the third wheel… or fourth… or fifth… apologies, I haven’t really kept up with how your stablemates view themselves in the pecking order. I just always keep an eye on you.

He turns to face her, but she’s already turned away with an olive from his salad bowl between her fingers. She smiles to herself as she bites through it carefully.

“She wants you.”

“Shut up.”

“This is it, James. This is the moment I’ve always predicted. Look at her! She’s gorgeous! FORGET BETSY! How many times do you need to watch her with other men, flaunting it in your face even when you’ve voiced your disapproval! Chuck Matthews, John Smithee, Billy Danielson, Adam Sanders, Baphomet… all while making you the villain whenever you speak to Atara. How many more breaks do you need to secure for Betsy before just once, she gives a shit about your struggle or sacrifice on her behalf?”

“You’re twisting things.”

“Maybe. Not much, though. Come on, little brother. Tell Atara all the secrets that you REALLY wanted to get together to share…”

She doesn’t let things get to that point. She stands up, making her way back to her seat and returning to her salad seemingly deep in thought. Finally she breaks the silence with an effortless shrug of her shoulders.

ATARA
So then make a change. We can all see the writing on the wall; the roster doesn’t have the firepower to stop NSQ. If you fall, it will be by implosion. So get out, before you get pinned in the rubble. Chris Page isn’t exactly being subtle about scooping up all the roster scraps for his “not-a-stable”, and you don’t want to get caught in some ego measuring contest between Shawn and Dickie when CCPE and House of M come gunning for you all.

She winks at him.

ATARA
You’re supposed to be Nightwing, remember? Let’s see the Renegade Raven come out again.

He’s quiet. He looks at her again as a beam of sunlight falls through the window and rests upon her face. He soaks in the warmth of her smile. He takes note of the softness in her eyes, reserved especially for him.

ATARA
May 12, 2010.

He recognizes the date.

ATARA
That’s when you came to Greece and fought my dad. You were a beast, James. It was 12 years ago, but that guy is still there. You were never in Shawn or Dickie’s shadow, you’ve just spent too long crouching behind them that you’ve forgotten. You can still dominate everyone and be a world champion again if you want to, we all know it… you just have to stand up.

She was beautiful, and now when he looked at her he allowed himself to appreciate it. He spears another forkful of salad and pops it into his mouth, chewing thoughtfully.

JAMES
What are you doing tomorrow? Want to grab pizza?

She nods her head gently, eyeing him from her seat.

JAMES
What about all of the days after that? Any big plans? I feel like I’ve got a chunk of free time coming up.

ATARA
I could probably move some things around. I’ve got a pretty comfortable couch, too… you know… if you needed somewhere to sleep.

He eyes her back.

“… holy fucking shit…”

“What?”

“All this time I thought Atara was a possible option, that she might be able to help you see the truth about Betsy not being the sort of woman who can help you be the sort of man that you’re supposed to be. But…”

“But what?”

“But there’s something here. Something I wasn’t expecting.”

Silence.

“How long have you felt this way?”

FADE OUT

Ladies and gentlemen! May I have your attention, please!

I repeat… may I have your attention, please!

If you might focus your gaze in the middle of the park, I will present to you the most sweat-inducing spectator event of all time! You’ll find yourself gasping for breath through heart palpitations and dry heaving, the sticky scent of blood hitting your nostrils so hard that you can taste its metallic tang on the tip of your tongue. Never has a single contest promised so much carnage and chaos! Never has a single company promised harm and misfortune to so many of its roster members at one time.

Boys and girls, children of all ages… step right up, because:

I! GIVE! YOU!

BLOOD!

MONEY!

TWO!

Are you appropriately hyped up, yet? Have I set the stage well enough for the bloodbath that’s going to follow? You may think you understand the implications of “everyone for themselves”, but you don’t. It’s not as simple as surviving a mass of opponents. It’s having to look some of them in the eyes and listen to their death rattle before you whisper to their lifeless bodies that you never wanted it to be this way. It’s looking an ally or a lover in their face and telling them point blank that the prize on their head or the title belt around their waist is worth more to you.

What happens when Joe and Paul Montouri realize they stand in each others way?

Who does Chris Page help if more than one of his precious protege are staring down the barrel?

What happens if Betsy and I are the last two standing, and finally have to hash things out?

Anarchy. Madness. Any word you choose to use, insert here… but the fallout isn’t going to be pretty. I’m ready for it, despite the popular opinion that I won’t be. I’ve heard the claims that anyone who didn’t participate in season one’s event is at a distinct advantage, in over their heads… fuck you, I’ve never been in over my head in my life. You don’t need the full speech or resume, you all know who the fuck you’re talking to by now. The People’s G.O.A.T., and I won’t let you forget it.

I’m not like these other Blood Money virgins. I’ve been around the block a few times, and then bought the fucking thing. Bam Miller, Tara Fenix, Ophelia Pain-Pinkston… THESE are the people you need to be worrying about. These are the FIGHT! rookies that have never seen Blood Money and lack the foresight to predict the freight train that’s heading their way. Anne Boleyn and Jinxie Jennie… can you honestly say with a straight face that they’re better equipped for this than I am? Jonny Frenz… can you say flavor of the month? I don’t even know if I trust this guy to make it through the season. THESE are the names to concern yourself with.

I could rake up enough Blood Money feasting on their heads alone to bid on any championship I wanted to, because not to brag… but I have seen some shit in this business. I wouldn’t be caught off guard by any tricks up their sleeve, by any weapons in their arsenal, or caught up in the moment or bright lights of the event. Don’t worry, I’m not planning on it. I wouldn’t want to hear all the bitching and moaning if I did.

Because LORD KNOWS you’d all bitch and moan, right?

“Raven went shooting fish in a barrel.”

“Raven talks about being undervalued on the roster, and all he did was kill off the noobs.”

It wouldn’t matter if I walked out at the end. Hell, it wouldn’t matter if I found a way to snatch the top title from Dickie Watson’s grasp. It’s not about winning to most of you, it’s about putting on some sort of performance for you no matter what it might cost me in my career, my personal life or my fucking mind…

Don’t worry. I’m planning one hell of a performance.

Let’s forget about the rookies, shall we? It’s nothing personal, it’s just that there’s about 326 people in this match and most of them have paid their dues in it before. I’m not going to spend my entire night shit talking all the people who haven’t earned it yet; so maybe we should talk about some of the people who were in the first Blood Money and keep trying to forget about it? You know, the early and embarrassing eliminations. The ones that faltered in their chance at greatness and have been fighting uphill for relevancy in an NSQ dominated world ever since.

I’m looking at you, Allison Riggs-Preston. Didn’t you go out first when you got your skull caved in by Michelle? That’s a big yikes from me, dawg. Don’t worry, though. I’ve already added a notch on my bedpost for you. Stay out of my way, and you might survive a few minutes longer this year.

How about Vincent Black, getting taken out embarrassingly by Dollface? Wasn’t he supposed to be the best this place had to offer? Or how about Dave the Dinosaur being technically eliminated twice? Would it be ok with everybody if I took them out in the Disney park, or is that still punching down? Fine, let’s keep working our way up the ladder; I still have a score to settle with Austin, after that backstage assault at Silent Fight, but surely I can’t go beating up the stripper who got eliminated by GRAHAM FUCKING CLAUSON last year can I? Sure, he has an unhealthy obsession with me whenever I show up to the Velvet Rabbit, but still… I can do better.

Enforcer? That dude is pumped so full of generic Mexican supplements that he can barely fit through the front gates of the park. He’s what you get when you hire an Incredible Hulk performer off Craigslist for a kids party, and some filipino juice-head in a wife beater shows up instead and demands you give him $75. I’m not into toppling the same mountain twice, and I dogwalked him and his girlfriend in the GCWA. Get fucked.

Remember when Miss Michelle got Blood Eagled by Valkyrie? That was kind of a surprise… Maybe if you’re lucky that psycho bitch won’t show up and ruin the event for you a second time. It would be a shame to see your cute little carcass split open and hung above the bumper cars. At least make sure you last longer than Brandon does, this year. That wasn’t a good look for you. I’ll tell you what, if I get a chance I’ll try to take him out early and make sure you get a little extra time to play this go around. I owe you one after I tossed your ass outta Ascension, after all.

Still nothing? Still no competitors worthy of James Raven taking out?

Surely you’re not about to suggest Druscilla fucking White? Let me tell you something, the only time I saw sad during the whole “Druscilla is dead” saga was when they announced she wasn’t. I’m more than happy to rectify that problem if it’s what all of you want to see… she’s been nothing but a cunt to me at each and every chance she’s had, while making no effort to step the fuck up if she had a problem. Now she may not have a choice.

No?

Still nothing that grabs you people? Then forget the rookies, and forget the scrubs.

Bring me more.

Bring me the best you’ve got.

“You’re starting to crackle, James. Now set these fucks ablaze.”


“PIT STOP”

VIRGINIA BEACH, VIRGINIA, UNITED STATES

RECENTLY

The sand squeezes between his toes as he walks, sea shells and smooth stones jabbing at his heels as the salt water tides lap in at his feet. The beach is quiet; off season. A few stragglers jog their dogs across the shoreline, braving the brisk breezes, but the normal mass of vacationers and bikini clad day drinkers are nowhere to be seen.

The drive from New York to Orlando was a long one. He had been graced with Atara’s company along the way, as he had for most of the past month, but it was nice to get out and stretch his legs and he was sure Atara appreciated a moment of peace and quiet for herself.

Besides…

RACHEL
It’s good to see you. It’s been a long time.

She leans over as they walk, bumping shoulders with her older brother and beaming up at him. He looks back at her sheepishly, rubbing the back of his neck with his hand.

JAMES
Yeah, sorry. Time just… kind of… kept passing, I guess.

RACHEL
It does that.

She keeps staring at him, waiting for more of an explanation. He feels the tightness in his gut, trying to fight through the awkwardness, but to no avail. He remains silent.

RACHEL
I haven’t seen you in three years, James. An occasional phone call or a letter, but that’s it. I’m your sister, why do you hate me?

She chuckles and fires a playful punch into his shoulder with her question, but he can tell she’s serious. He also knows that he doesn’t have an answer that begins to approach acceptable.

JAMES
I didn’t feel like I was good for you. Nobody in the family was, Rach. We were pinning you down, and we were toxic. We couldn’t get out of our own heads and our own ways, and you weren’t like that. You finally got away, and… and you seemed happy. I didn’t want to be the one to show up and drag you out of it.

RACHEL
… you’re my brother. You’re the only one I have left. I would have liked to have you around.

He says nothing at the reference of TJ, turning to look out over the frigid ocean waves.

JAMES
You know I’d have taken care of anything you needed.

RACHEL
I needed the one good member of my family, not a credit card.

JAMES
I know. I’m sorry.

She wipes a subtle tear from the corner of her eye, then smiles widely at him.

RACHEL
Well, you’re here now, and you better come by more often. Not just if your boss books you somewhere and you happen to be in the area!

He nods in understanding. He means it.

RACHEL
So, a road trip to Disney World, huh? That sounds fun. I still love those movies, you know? I think about when we used to watch them together at the cottage, with TJ.

“Ooh, finally. Let’s talk about me, please.”

JAMES
Mhm.

“Don’t sound so salty about it.”

The tide laps gently at his toes as his sister continues.

RACHEL
Do you remember when TJ and I used to tease you about which princess you were? You always used to say Cinderella, and it made me sad. I don’t think you were ever able to see yourself the way other people see you.

He sighs deeply.

JAMES
Maybe. I don’t know.

RACHEL
I only get to see you on TV now, but from what I can tell you might be more of a Pochahontas. You’re passionate about what you believe in, and you fight each day to try and make the world a better place. Or maybe… Tiana. You’re confident, and you have clear goals that you intend on reaching no matter what. People around you consider you to be resolute and fearless, with a heart of gold…

“HA! She couldn’t BE more wrong! It’s like she never even met you at all!”

“I hate you.”

“But you need me.”

He says nothing. He stops walking, turning out to face the ocean and breathing in a lungful of salty air.

RACHEL
No thoughts? Nothing? I’m trying to make conversation here, James, work with me.

JAMES
I don’t know. Mulan. I’m Mulan. She can fight, and she wasn’t ever actually a princess.

Rachel rolls her eyes. If he wasn’t going to play along, fine, but he didn’t have to be snippy about it. She stares out at the ocean with him silently, then shrugs her shoulders.

RACHEL
Fine. If you don’t want to talk about Disney, or why we don’t see each other, fine… but that’s all I’ve got. You suggest a topic, it’s not like nothing has happened to you recently right? My brother the globe-trotting millionaire, the famous athlete television star or whatever the hell it is that you are… no, it’s all on me to drive the conversation when you show up at my door randomly, with some Greek bombshell in the car with you.

James turns to look at her sharply.

“Oop, there it is.”

“Stop.”

“No. You stop. Stop biting your tongue, and start telling people how you actually feel. You want her to stop casting shade on Atty’s name? Then FUCKING ENLIGHTEN HER! Or let me.”

“Do it.”

“Oh goodie, here we go.”

James smiles at his sister, a gleam suddenly shining in his eye. She seems slightly unnerved, but presses him anyways.

RACHEL
What’s going on, James? Where’s Betsy?

JAMES
Home. Manhattan. The island or a snow covered cabin. I don’t fucking know, and frankly I don’t fucking care.

Rachel falls into a stunned silence, almost double taking at her brother’s tonal shift. She takes a few steps away from him on the beach, inhaling her own heavy breath of ocean breeze.

RACHEL
So, are you guys finished?

JAMES
I don’t fucking know.

RACHEL
So… are you and Atara together?

JAMES
None of anybodies fucking business.

Rachel’s eyes widen in shock. She hadn’t seen him in years, but he he had still never spoken to her like that. TJ on the other hand…

RACHEL
You’re making it everyone’s business, James! Trips to Buffalo to watch the playoff game together, joint interviews on Greek TV, pictures of you two in bed together on Twitter? You’re lucky people know those are fake, or else you-

JAMES
What if they’re not fake? HUH?! “Or else” fucking what?! I’m a goddamn adult, Rachel, I can make my own fucking decisions. Whether I marry Betsy, dump Betsy, date Atara or film a high definition sex tape with her and release it for free just to make sure everyone sees it and knows they can do nothing about it… it’s my fucking perogative!

RACHEL
What are you-

JAMES
I needed to see my friend. I needed someone to talk to. Atara has always been that, and Betsys self-centered ass can’t handle it and never could. It’s the reason why I’m always viewed with the suspicious eye, why I’m always the villain to her for daring to care about someone else with a set of tits other than her! If she was so concerned about me and where I was, or how I was doing, why didn’t she call me instead of making herself the victim on Twitter because I hadn’t called her yet.

RACHEL
James, stop-

JAMES
“Let him have his Greek whore”, Rachel. That’s what she fucking said, while she made a point of gallivanting with Thaddeus Duke just to spite me. She’s out here calling him “daddy” or “zaddy” or whatever the fuck, but I’M IN THE WRONG for salad and pizza and some conversation? I TRIED TO TALK TO BETSY! I TRIED TO TALK TO SHAWN! They didn’t want to fucking hear it because they were too worried about themselves, or too tired of trying to keep me stable that they stopped trying… so I found someone else, and you know what? It’s better. I’m fucking happier with Atara the past couple of weeks than I’ve been in months, if not longer.

Rachel is silent, her lower lip subtly trembling as she looks away from her brother.

JAMES
Betsy thinks this is all some game I’m playing to get her attention. It was never a game. She can subtweet about her hurt feelings or call me an asshole if she wants, but if she actually intends to claim it’s all just emotional manipulation against her it just proves that she never understood the issues that have been festering underneath our relationship all along, and I’m not explaining it to her. I’ve found someone else to occupy my time with. Betsy is a problem, Rachel. She never cared about being real partners with me, and she never cared about staying with me when she could go places I couldn’t. I’m not waiting around at home as her thing to fall back on anymore. I’m not wasting the energy boosting her in the business when she consistently steps on my neck without concern to gain even half an inch more. Fuck. Her.

Rachel takes a deep breath, and swallows hard.

RACHEL
I think you guys should probably hit the road soon. It’s going to get dark.

JAMES
Right.

RACHEL
It was good to see you.

JAMES
Uh-huh.

They turn and begin to make their way back down the beach, a decent distance apart.

“Christ. That’s our sister. You’re a fucking asshole.”

“No. You’re just a pussy.”

Silence.

“I’ll do this to as many people as you need me to. You’re welcome.”

FADE OUT

Uh-ohhhh…

Daddy’s home.

Run to your beds and pretend to be asleep, if you’re lucky maybe he’ll leave you alone tonight. I’m sorry, was that implication a little too dark? Did it bring up a few half-buried memories about good ol’ papa, and now you’re having trouble falling asleep without remembering old family dinners gone wrong, and the hell that followed them.

Oopsie.

Nobody gives a fuck about your sob story, bitch. Nobody gives a fuck about mine either. I’m not here to tip toe around your feelings or hold your hand through the park to make sure nobody says mean things to you and hurts your sensitive fucking sensibilities. This shit may be in Disney World, but quit expecting the happiest place on Earth… this is Blood Money 2, come strapped with your heaviest shit or don’t come at all.

Actually, while we’re on the subject; consider that a personal shout out to Lissie Hope. Don’t come at all. Continue to bury yourself in that new piece of ass you’ve got, and leave the pansy emotional bed-wetting stuff for James Raven. I wouldn’t be able to stomach lining you up for an F.Y.S. only to have you suddenly O.D. and make it impossible for me to collect my prize off of you.

It’s open to the rest of you, though, and I mean literally anyone else. Corey Black, you want to wander away from your home turf and prove yourself the King? Here’s your chance. You’ve beaten Dickie and The G.O.A.T. before, so it shouldn’t even really be that hard for you. Unless there’s some truth to the asterisks some fans place on those contests? I don’t know, I’m just saying…

How about Damian Ayla, or Alias? Their names have built some traction in the past year. Where is Sam Hamilton and her Shield Maidens? Where is Thaddeus Duke, putting his lion heart to the test after all the pot shots he takes so casually at everyone else’s expense? Bring me all of them, and let me sharpen my blades on their fucking skulls before moving on to the real tests.

Bring me Father Thyme and Amari Kent so I can make you forget them quicker than you did the first time. Bring me Dark Tiger and Jason Ryan, Korrupt and Tommy Kain. Let me line my pockets with the gold they carry before I cobble the streets of Orlando with their ribs. This is not a fucking joke, this is not a fucking drill. My brother let me out of the cage at Countdown, and I got a taste for this kind of smoke. I’m not backing down until each and every one of you gets the Lisa Marie Ashton treatment. I’m not stopping until every single person that’s set foot in this mother fucker gets buried like Mav or Ryan Elias and lost to obscurity forever.

So let’s say I get this far.

Let’s say I survive the rookies and the scrubs, the alumni and the foreign entrants.

Are any of you happy with my efforts yet? If I mowed through them all like they were a zombie horde, and got eliminated now, would I get any praise from any of you?

Yeah. I didn’t think so. Fine. Then bring me your contenders.

Watch while I gut Apathy like a fish, and teach her the consequences that come with keeping the sort of company she does. She’d be a lucky charm, getting taken out by the eventual winner two years in a row? Imagine the price people would see dancing over her head in Blood Money Three… if she was recovered enough to participate by then, of course.

I can picture her rolling her eyes at me, arms crossed in all that tight black leather. She things I’m being cocky and cute, using colorful language in some flimsy attempt to intimidate all of you. The silver tongue and razor wit is just a cute slogan to put on a tee shirt sweetie, but make no mistake… I’m all about the action I claim. The disembowelment and the twisting of your bones until they snap like chicken wings? I’m all about it if it helps me get what I want.

I will bathe myself in your fucking blood if it will get people to start noticing me, and looking past me when searching for contenders and promotable faces. You all respect the name of James Raven when you want something from him, but you don’t actually give a shit… you don’t want to see him do well… now you can all pay the price for it.

Am I making myself clear? When I pick out a name like Ricky Rodriguez, and threaten to leave him a bloody pin cushion… are you all going to stop giggling about how Thaddeus Duke threatened to do the same thing, and start checking me for blades? I’m not like you, Ricky, or you Sahara… grouping up with the Jennie Fenix’s and Ashlynn Cassidys of the world and spending EVERY WAKING MOMENT gabbing about who fucked who, where and when.

You’ve all fucked the rest. Surprise. If you haven’t, you’re desperately trying to and will likely succeed. For gods sake, stop making us all listen to it though. You make VooDoo’s club unbearable to be in on a near nightly basis as you toss around pouty lips and seductive glances, spending hours at a time bartering with each other about who’s allowed to taste who’s genitals.

I’m not in Florida because someone destroyed the tower and I had nothing else to do, or to see how many fingers I can fit in Sahara during the “It’s a Small World” ride. I’m here to climb over all of you, and set myself up in a way I wasn’t afforded the opportunity to last season… but I’m not through with you, Lauren. There’s some unfinished business we’ll have to settle at some point, but there’s a time and place… and this ain’t it. For once, you and I may be eyeing a few of the same targets.

Are we getting warmer, kids? Are we starting to get to the sort of names you’re expecting me to clear out of the park at the end of the month? I’ve got plenty of ammo in the chamber, it just feels like we’re starting to run a little thin on targets.

Not Anicka Swan? It’s just… I mean… I’ll do it, but I’m not taking the easy stuff. She’s been called a whore a million times, one more isn’t going to bring her tumbling down. She was an unsung hero in the first Blood Money, though, and that’s not to be underplayed. Three eliminations is impressive. I’m looking to double that this year, though, and I could give a shit if you decide to get reckless and make yourself one of them. Stick to posting your memes on Twitter, sweet cheeks, it’s safer for your health.

You’re not even the scariest broad in the top ranks, though. I’m much more worried about Todrick Tabor trying to sneak up on me and send some sort of message. I’ve seen the hunger in your eyes when people like Chris Page, Centurion or myself come around, Todrick. I’ve seen the jealousy and envy, and let me tell you; a bitch doesn’t look good in green… you want what we have, because no matter what crown you buy from a costume shop to put upon your own head, it doesn’t carry a shred of the clout our wrestling boots do. Last season your fiance got a taste of my fucking wrath when he crossed me backstage, if you want the same you can get it, but the shit is more bitter than Austin after a night of heavy drinking. I don’t discriminate. I’ll leave you prone and shattered like I would anyone else, in fact I may do the ladies first.

That brings me to the four horsemen of self righteous bull shit.

Dane Preston, Brandon Moore, Montouri brothers… it’s nice to see you all again.

Dane, I’m going to go ahead and send you to the sidelines early. I’ve already put you on suicide watch once, and your failure to do anything of note against any member of NSQ that anybody remembers puts you pretty low on my list of priorities. “Human embodiment of beige” is more memorable than anything you’ve said or accomplished, and I’m not going to sit here and listen to you ramble endlessly without actually saying anything when I could just as easily rip your tongue from your skull and send it to Robbie Bourbon as an olive branch. Sit down, and shut the fuck up Dane. Your desire to be what NSQ is has gotten so unbelievably pathetic that it’s going to be like curb stomping a puppy when I finally have to take you out… just buy a fucking tee shirt and admit you’re a fan already. Maybe we’ll invite you to a VIP meet and greet or something.

Just go easy on the melodramatics this time.

We don’t need to hear you whine when you lose. We all knew it was going to happen already. It’s not our fault that you didn’t.

Drink heavily and bury your emotions deep in your chest until you die, like a man is supposed to you fucking pussy.

To the other three though, House of M and the fucking dumpster brothers… I stand by what I told you at Countdown. I’m sick of your mumbling and grumbling, your backstage whispers and childish jealousy. I’m over your woe is me bull shit, and your everyone is against us mentality.

You can’t deny that I backed up everything I said leading up to that event.

You can’t tell me that when you were finally in the ring with me, I wasn’t everything you had heard about me and more. I beat you both from pillar to post, I towered over your prone bodies and strutted on your fucking corpses and I will do it again. I WAS THE BEST MAN AT COUNTDOWN. It wasn’t Pretty Boy Paulie Penis Envy, even if he did manage to finish Aiden in the end, and it sure as hell wasn’t Brandon Moore who ended the night so bloodied and broken at my feet that he apparently went and got ANOTHER plastic surgery.

How much Blood Money does a broken nose cost to fix?

How much is a shattered jaw, or cheekbone?

I can keep doing this forever, Brandon, until you settle the fuck down and stop trying to get lippy behind my back while saying nothing to my fucking face. Your incoherent psycho babble bullshit doesn’t fly here Moore, speak to me like a fucking adult, or I’ll bash your face in again and send your surgeon to early retirement with all the work you have to book. I’ll have you looking like Tom Hardy by February and Stephen Merchant by March… not to mention the dental hookup you’ll need after I bust the teeth from your gums and sprinkle the Disney land concrete with them like you’re the worlds worst pinata.

Like I said to Lauren, I’m not finished with any of you either… but there’s a time and a place. I’m not going to spend an hour unloading everything I have to say against you dipshits, but just know that there’s a reckoning coming for you this season. We have unfinished business, and a blood brawl with every other member of the roster isn’t the time to be tunnel visioned.

This isn’t about the Island titles. You can have them if you’re that proud of them. In fact, my only regret from Countdown is not leaving you morons bound and gagged in the Tower when it went down.

You’ll wish I had. Now I’m coming back for each and every one of your scalps.

Now Candace! Book me some time with your finest dancer. I need to blow off some steam before I finish this off.

How did Betsy put it, James?

“Let him have his Greek whore”.

Right. That was it.


“TEACUPS”

ORLANDO, FLORIDA, UNITED STATES

NOW

He had never believed in the magic of the Disney kingdom. He was fairly certain it was nothing more than clever marketing and impressionable children. How could a drunk teenager in a Mickey Mouse costume provide him with any sort of lasting memory? How were fireworks above a castle turret supposed to make him feel like a new man?

The wind whips through his hair as the giant teacup spins round and round on its base, the laughter and screams of kids and couples alike echoing around him as the other teacups whizzed past.

There was something in the air that made him question his long held belief about magic.

Atara sits next to him on the seat, the force of the rotations sending her sliding into him as she cackles loudly with glee. Her hair flies into his face, her full weight crashing into his open arms as he tries to hold her steady and smiles to himself.

“There’s something about this girl. She’s different.”

“Tell me about it.”

“No. She’s different, and she makes you different. Different than anyone else I’ve ever seen you with. She would spend a full day bashing everyone close to you, and you’d do nothing. She openly and repeatedly told one of your best friends that she would make him a cuckold if you gave her a chance. She threw Betsy off a fucking scaffold and you trained her for an MMA fight the very next week, no questions asked.”

“It’s complicated.”

“It’s not. When she’s around, you don’t worry as much about everyone else. You do the things you want to do. I like it.”

The teacups continue to spin, the smile fading from his face as he holds Atara in his arms and looks up at the moon above the castle turrets. He takes a deep breath.

“Burn it down, baby. Burn it all fucking down. Leave Betsy for Atara, and together the two of you can kick NSQ all over the Disney park, and then live happily ever after. You can make this kingdom YOUR Empire. Fuck Dickie Watson.”

“Stop it.”

“You bitch.”

The ride begins to slow, eventually coming to a complete halt. He listens to passengers piling out of their cups, laughing and screaming as they head off to other rides. She lingers in his arms for a moment, then clears her throat softly and begins to pull herself out of the seat.

“You bitch…”

She steps down to the pavement, nearly out of reach when he suddenly grabs her hand and stops her. She turns to look at him as he slides out of the seat, climbing to his feet in front of her. Her eyes twinkle in the moonlight, the slightest of upward curls at the corner of her mouth. He leans closer to her, and then slightly closer still.

They say nothing.

He grabs her by the waist, pulling her into him as his lips meet hers. His hand slides up her back, his mind racing as he feels her silken hair between his fingertips. It’s like every ounce of energy in his body channels itself into one kiss, one moment of emotion and passion that he prays can say more than all of his fumbled attempts to express himself in the past.

Fireworks explode overhead, launched from the turrets of the Magic Castle, and a crowd of people applaud the sight.

“They may as well be clapping for you. ‘Atta boy.”

He doesn’t know how long it is before he finally pulls away from her, but when he does he opens his eyes and sees that she’s as ecstatic as he is. She beams, seemingly over the moon. She looks up at the night sky, taking a moment to collect herself before looking back at him.

ATARA
When you can’t look on the brightside… I will sit with you in the dark.

The Hatter. He always loved The Hatter.

He smiles at her. He’s happy, truly happy, for the first time in who knows how long.

Yeah. He was wrong about the magic and the fireworks of this place.

He DID feel like a new man.

She leans in for another small peck, and together they walk away from the teacups and disappear into the darkness.

FADE OUT

Wow, that escalated quickly, didn’t it?

Let’s all just take a deep breath and calm down. There’s no need to talk about shattering knee caps and fishhooking eyeballs from the sockets of my enemies.

“Sure there is.”

Well, I guess that’s a matter of opinion.

“You have the wrong opinion.”

Cut it out, I’m running out of time here. If I have any chance of winning Blood Money, this is the crunch time where I have to focus up. You know that. As soon as we’re finished you can be as annoying as you want to be.

“Bet.”

The rookies, the alumni, the outsiders, the scrubs, the middle tier and the best FIGHT had to offer before we came along… just humour me kids, and believe that I make it that far.

There’s only one rung left on the ladder, and it’s the one most of you are ill prepared to take a firm grip on and hoist yourself over. What happens when I have to face all of my friends?

“Friends. HA! There are no true friends in wrestling. There are even less in Blood Money. Fuck ‘em all. Burn it all down.”

What do any of you expect me to do if I’m confronted by Vhodka Black?

“Send her ass back to PWE.”

Or Centurion.

“His championship is waiting for him back at UGWC. This is YOUR territory. Fuck the old man if he thinks he can hang with this crowd.”

Alice Knight, Sloane Taylor, Sebastian Everett Bryce…

“An underachieving flake, a girl too pure for her own survival in this sort of match, and someone you’ve already proven yourself to be better than on one of your worst days. Seb wont come for you, he went through his darkest days and threw everything he had… and you shrugged it off. If he comes back for seconds, don’t hold back. Put them all down, again if you have to, and prove that you’re cut from a different goddamn cloth than they are. You may not want to hurt them, but give me the reins. I have no such reservations.”

Easy.

“NO! Stop trying to pull me back in when I’m saying the things that you’re too fucking scared to! Stop pussy footing around the truth with these clowns, and spell it out for them if they need to hear it! Tell Peter Vaughn that no amount of #HailRaven tweets changes the fact that he’s another in a long line of people Betsy chose to align herself with instead of just once asking you to come and help her. Tell him that he’s not your fucking peer just because he finally got off his ass after all of these years and decided to put some goddamn effort in! Shove his mop handle up his ass and send him the hell out of here! If Vhodka and Centurion are getting sent packing to their home feds, Thunder Pro can take him back just the same.”

He’s a nice guy.

“A nice guy. A NICE FUCKING GUY! Nice guys get nowhere, or have you not learned that lesson from your last few years of idle toiling? A nice guy isn’t going to win Blood Money, James. Nobody is walking out with any title belts because they were a super nice guy. Vaughn is going to get used up and thrown out by Chris Page before the night is through. Tell me that I’m wrong.”

It’s possible.

“Possible! HA! Chris Page is gathering his forces, James. He’s spreding himself paper thin through the industry in hopes of building an army to protect him against people like you. He’s old, James. He can’t keep up in Blood Money unless he has help, and he’s brought it.”

I’ll deal with Chris in February.

“Why let him last that long? Finish him now. This whole ‘respect for a fellow veteran’ schtick is an act, and you know it. He’s coming for you, and for the rest of NSQ. He’s coming for the belt, and if you look past him or let him linger around for too long… he’ll make you pay for it.”

You’re right. I know.

“Find Chris Page early. Show everyone what you showed the fans in XWF and WGWF… you’re better than ‘The Chronic One’. Drag him into the deep waters and see how well those lungs holds up.”

And that leaves…

“N.S.Q.”

I don’t even know what to say.

“I do.”

No, shut the fuck up. We all knew this moment was coming eventually.

We weren’t going to last forever without coming face to face like this, not with the way FIGHT! does things at least. I’ve prepared myself for the worst, for the bile and the venom to be hurled… probably at me. That’s fine. I understand. I’m not sure I’m ready to say anything back yet.

“Oh, what the fuck, we came so far.”

We have our differences, our issues, our mistrusts. We have insecurities. I’m not looking to capitalize on it for some cheap publicity. If we meet toe to toe, so be it and may the best man win, but mud slinging won’t change any of the things that have bothered me-

“But it will make you feel better, you coward. These people are not the friends that you make them out to be. Ask Kasey if she knows your birthday. Ask Aiden how much he knows about your fucking career?”

That’s not my point.

“But it’s THE point. If Blood Money came down to you, Shawn Warstein and Kasey… do you really believe he’s picking you? If it was you, Dickie and Aiden… do you feel safe? OPEN YOUR FUCKING EYES, JAMES! Even Betsy uses you for every advantage she can without ever offering a hand in exchange. You’re their workhorse! Their mule! They keep you in their ranks because it’s safer than taking you head on! They use you as a tool to occupy the people they deem beneath them, like Sahara or Brandon Moore. Aiden phoned in that Islands title match, and he cost you… plus you’ve beaten him before. He can get fucked. Kasey doesn’t care about you, she can get fucked too.”

That leaves Betsy, Shawn and Dickie… I… now isn’t the time.

“It’s the ONLY time. If not now then when? You and Betsy are going to come face to face inside that park, you know it’s true, whether Atara is with you or any of Betsy’s new friends are with her… you’re going to have to confront her, and the past month. You can’t hide anymore.”

If she comes for me, she comes for me.

“She’s going to come for you. They all are. Shawn has waited for this moment for years. Dickie has always wanted you in his shadow, presenting himself as an underdog while ruling the world you all live in. Take the crown. Start a new Empire. Burn it down.”

You’re right.

“Of course I am. Do you know what Disney Princess you are? Snow White, because you were the fucking original, the one that started all of this shit for all of these people… the one that keeps the franchise going… you made your friends household names, despite dwarfing them at every turn. Go win this fucking shit, James. Make the fucking statement they expected you to make in season two, and get ready to fuck some people’s shit up. Then take Atara, and live happily ever after.”

OK.

“They don’t want any part of you, you fucking savage.”

Fear the Ravens… Forevermore…

Everyone but Atty can go to hell.