The camera crawls down a dim corridor toward a closed door. It abruptly snaps open, revealing naught but a pool of darkness inside, and silence.
A pair of muted lights begin to glow, faint and phantom bulbs hovering in the murk like a magician’s trick. On the east and west ends of the room, televisions switch on to white noise and static. The ghost lights brighten just enough to illuminate a figure at the center of the room, facing away with head bowed. The light catches the bottom of an emblem scrawled on the wall, the glint of silver brushed over a crown atop a stylized M.
The Julian Bathory presented in his eerie ReVival promos was a well-dressed showman and presenter. This rendition is grim and solemn, already clad in his ring attire, a silver and green towel draped over his head, veiling his features, the icon of MESSIAH embroidered at the crest.
His voice sounds fed through an effect filter as he begins to narrate, a deeper timbre than his usual tone, a hint of reverb, overlaid with subtle hisses as of a snake.
Julian Bathory: Tonight the tribute concludes, and the prologue period for the new era ends. Champions will be crowned and, finally, there will be clarity as to the hierarchy in the house of PRIME. Hmph. Clarity.
An image finally appears on one of the TV’s. It shifts between clips of war-ravaged landscapes, calamitous storms, and riotous violence, before changing tone to scenes of consolatory charity, rekindled love, warm-hued horizons, inspirational photos of history.
Julian Bathory: Most of us have heard the Cherokee legend, in one iteration or another. The story of the two wolves locked in us all, forever fighting, with the burden of our heart the prize. One is evil, representing hate, greed, sorrow, lies, and every other iniquity blackening the human condition. The other is good, the spirit of love, joy, peace, empathy, humility. Who will win? Well, it’s up to you. It will be whichever you feed the most. As director of MESSIAH I’ve traveled the world and shaken hands with altruistic titans, shared tables with dictators. I’ve seen the darkness at the core of reality, felt its inviting lure, and been lifted up by elements of faith and righteousness.
The other TV fades to black before leaping into highlights of Anna Daniels from her prior match-ups in PRIME. Oncoming Storm putting away Nathan Filmix, flashes of aerial artistry as she gracefully crashes down on Nicholas Pfefferman, spikes the crown of his skull into the mat with an inverted hurricanrana. The audience roars approval as she poses, basking in adulation.
Julian Bathory: The Muse, the enigma that is Anna Daniels. Even the scholars within the organization’s ranks can’t determine what drives you. The results, however, are more substantial both in PRIME and besides. Beyond just the strength contradicting your size, frankly there’s an unnerving labyrinth of voices and ambitions under that cloak. Which wolf which you embrace in the end? Or are such things trivial, beneath the scope of what guides you?
A change to a reel of Teddy Palmer’s actions in the ring. A flurry of clipped brutalizing uppercuts and suplexes, punctuated by the Nosebleed Section that put Cyrus O’Haire to rest in round two. Unlike Daniels, he dismisses the crowd and saunters away at the end.
Julian Bathory: An auspicious free spirit haunted by myriad addictions and vices. A man who could be king reducing himself to a pauper, all in the name of the next thrill, the next moment of fleeting bliss. Who shows up tonight, Teddy? The engaged warrior with the throne in his sights or the wayward junkie, forever chasing the dragon?
A smiling Impulse, standing over Julian himself in the quarterfinal, arms triumphantly raised.
Julian Bathory: I wish I were a man above reprisal, but you wounded me grievously, Impulse. Myself and the MESSIAH collective both. I don’t tape to know what you’re about. You have skin invested in this game, wily Randall, globe-trotting veteran. Like me you can’t afford to toss this opportunity away, watch your career wither on the vine and wonder what could have been. Who does fate and fortune favor now? It’s been a long road, old gunslinger, and this may be your last stop. The question lingers: will you leave this town riding tall on a horse, or prone in a box?
The images on both monitors fade. Onto one springs a video of curved horns awash in fire, and other angelic wings of mercy.
Julian Bathory: The dust settles tonight at Culture Shock. With the prelude’s close shall the dominant narrative of PRIME be written, and let it be told, MESSIAH shall command this story. We are legion. The Season of Knives will shape us. Defiance is futile, assimilation inevitable. Evil wolf, good wolf. New World Savior, Carpathian Devil. It’s all perspective. In the end, that immutable end that will come for us all, who can tell the difference?
He pivots in his stool, lifting his head for the first time, eyes flickering open. The irises are yellow, almost golden, shimmering, the eyes of a serpent of myth. One side of his mouth turns up in a wicked-seeming half-smile, a trick of the light imparting the appearance of fangs.
Julian Bathory: Forever the crown.